Destined to remake one of the world's most popular and unhealthy foods as deliciously healthy is Naked Pizza. Robbie Vitrano, Co-Founder, Naked Pizza, shares brands’ plans for expansion in the Middle East.
Namita Bhagat (NB): Tell us what ‘Naked Pizza’ is all about?
Robbie Vitrano (RV): I am one of four founders of Naked Pizza. My partners are Jeff Leach, Randy Crochet and Brock Fillinger and Ian Ohan is our international partner. We began this journey in post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans. We launched by leaning into social innovation and social media, remaking one of the world's most popular and unhealthy foods as deliciously healthy. We used a USD 50 billion industry and proven business model as a Trojan horse to quickly gain distribution and influence, demonstrating that fast-food can be a part of the solution for the global epidemic of obesity and chronic disease attributable to diet. In 2009 we gained the backing of billionaires Mark Cuban and Robert Kraft and launched franchising, receiving more than 6000 inquiries, hundreds of international media mentions, and now have more than 500 locations in development around the world. And we put two of the world's favorite words together in our name – ‘naked’ and ‘pizza.’ Naked means natural, nothing to hide - no secrets and authentic - stripped down to what is real and what matters in business, food and life.
NB: When did your brand enter the Middle East market?
RV: We began to prepare for our launch in late 2010 by meeting with members of the entrepreneurial, health, technology, academic and media communities, and establishing of our international headquarters in the Dubai Marina. We opened our first location in January of 2011.
NB: What is the brands’ expansion model in Middle East?
RV: Ian Ohan is our area developer in the GCC. It is a direct franchise agreement (not master franchise). Due to the tremendous success of our existing three locations (Dubai Marina, Studio City/Dubai and Al Murooj Complex), we are working on our fourth location in Dubai. We expect to be in Abu Dhabi in the first part of 2012. We are actively evaluating several markets in the region.
NB: Have you customised your concept for the region’s market?
RV: There are a few small changes to the menu such as the elimination of all pork products and the inclusion of corn and potatoes. Recently, we added Manakesh which has been a huge success. The other obvious change was to our name out of cultural sensitivity and respect.
NB: What is the capital and area requirement from partner’s end?
KV: While it requires significant resources, we are most focused on our partner possessing the capabilities, experience and full embrace of our mission. As you know, all money is not the same. We have carefully awarded development contracts in both the US and abroad. Our mission aligns purpose and profit. At our core, we are concerned with having a significant impact on the health of our customers through the vehicle of pizza. We are entirely clear that impact is only possible when we achieve scale. And to achieve true scale and impact, our stores must be among the most profitable in the industry.
NB: Tell us about your current presence in Mid East? What are your expansion plans?
RV: As noted, due to the overwhelming response to our brand and success of our stores, we plan to significantly expand our footprint. The entrepreneurial culture in the Middle East, a product of a very young population, the exploding popularity of frictionless technology and communications tools like social media is perfectly aligned with our company. Add to that an interest in conscious capitalism, and a growing focus on health (the UAE has the second highest rate of type 2 diabetes per capita in the world - almost entirely related to diet and as such, almost entirely preventable) and we see unlimited opportunity for our brand.
NB: What kind of business opportunity does the brand offer?
RV: We are only seeking highly committed and capable individuals for our system regardless of whether it is to award a country, region or area or to partner with an existing area developer such as Ian as an investor.
NB: Could you share break even period –ROI facts?
RV: This varies greatly. In the US we'd expect 18 months to two years. However, our stores in Dubai hit positive cash flow almost immediately. They are performing in excess of the margins ordinarily associated with our industry.
With its growing mall culture and vibrant mall development scenario,...