How plant-based eatery thrives on an unlikely target market

September 27, 2018 ATB Financial


 

“Wait, so you’re not going after the vegan market?” everyone would ask Kristina, founder of popular plant-based Edmonton eatery KB&Co.

I mean, it seemed like a natural target audience choice for the restaurateur: all her recipes are free from dairy, meat and gluten. But in true entrepreneur fashion, Kristina had a different vision.
 

Where it all began

I guess you could say it all started when Kristina first got her feet wet in the restaurant industry—she bought her first franchise at 18. After a 20-year journey of franchise opportunities, she stepped away to work in real estate.

“This was clearly not where my heart was,” Kristina speaks of real estate. “My true passion is for nutrition.” And rightly so—for years she’s suffered from digestive issues, causing Kristina to swap her diet for a plant-based one. Sounds easy enough when you say it like that—then throw a couple kids into the mix. “When I cooked, I had to ask myself ‘how do you make a plant-based BLT or chili taste good to a kid?’”

So most of the recipes on KB&Co’s menu, from sloppy joes to Caesar salad, are a product of her experience making plant-based food taste good and “normal” for her selective kiddos. “And if I’m winning with teenage kids, then I’m doing something right,” Kristina laughs.
 

Taking the plunge

But how did she make the leap from cooking for her kids to serving the likes of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Connor McDavid?

“During my time in real estate,” Kristina shares, “I’d made a ton of plant-based treats and brought them into the office. My coworkers—who weren’t vegan—loved them, told me that I should get back into the restaurant business.” And she knew exactly which target audience she wanted to serve.
 

Health food for all

“Regardless if you’re vegan or not, regardless of any ailments you have, whole plant-based food are the way to go,” explains Kristina. “So I never marketed to those with allergies or intolerances, to vegans or vegetarians, but to everyone.” Why? “If I marketed to vegans—which at the time were such a small percentage of Edmontonians—what change would I be making to their health? I want the everyday person, the athletes, the ‘suits’ to have access to healthy food that tastes good.”

Making plant-based food approachable was key for Kristina to make sure non-vegans would flock to KB&Co, and it worked. “I just knew that it had to be relatable,” explains Kristina, “not just the menu items, but the entire experience and feel of the place.”

“If you go to a vegan restaurant, you see yogis, an earthy atmosphere, and in terms of experience that’s not comfortable for some people,” says Kristina. “What we did instead was create a brand that looks and feels clean and simple, something that you wouldn’t associate with a vegan restaurant.”
 

Ahead of the curve

This “new” way of approaching healthy eating really isn’t new. Kristina has been following people in Australia who’ve been making “casual, conscious eateries” mainstream for years. “Everywhere else, people were buying in this,” Kristina points out, “so I went into this knowing people here will buy into this.”

So, what keeps professional athletes, celebrities and business people coming back? “People are just looking for real food,” Kristina claims. And that’s exactly what KB&Co delivers, without any stigma. “If you eat here for lunch, and then have steak for dinner, good for you! We’re not judgey with our customers. We accept them for who they are and the lifestyle they choose to lead.”

Bucking the recommendation to focus on a natural target market, Kristina and KB&Co have made eating healthy less about kelp noodles and more about keeping things down to earth.
 

This is for you, entrepreneurs

There’s plenty to learn from Kristina’s story. Here are three pieces of advice about selecting a target audience that we took away.

Don't follow the crowd when it comes to picking your target market. Stay on the lookout for opportunities to expand your market—you might just tap into an unreached market like Kristina did.

Stay plugged into what’s trending and changing in customer behaviour. Like Kristina following how conscious eating was exploding in Australia, your research can can help direct you to your targeting market.

Develop a deep understanding of who you’re marketing to and how your product or service can solve a pain point for them—like Kristina did by making healthy food more accessible without compromising on taste.

 

Want to learn more about starting your own business?

Check out our entrepreneur’s guide—it’s chock full of advice, tips and resources to help go-getters like you.

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