INCREASINGLY, FOOD IS ALSO BEING PREPARED IN BELGIUM IN SO-CALLED GHOST KITCHENS OR 'DARK KITCHENS'.
BENJAMIN TYTGAT AND WESLEY BOLSIUS TELL YOU MORE ABOUT DARKK, A GHOST KITCHEN CONCEPT FROM COMPASS GROUP BELGIUM.
Hello Benjamin & Wesley. What is DARKK if you had to explain it in your own words?
Benjamin: DARKK was born out of a request from small and medium enterprises that were looking for a stable and reliable partner to offer their employees a certain form of catering.
In the past, we were not always able to meet this demand because we always had to employ staff on the sites themselves and the costs could get high. Via DARKK, we were able to offer these companies a solution. Thanks to DARKK, their employees no longer always have to walk out during their lunch break to score a sandwich at the sandwich shop around the corner, but can now have tasty, fresh and healthy meals delivered to them.
You can think of us as the Takeaway.com or the Uber Eats of companies. We bring high-quality food fresh to the customer every day. This is done digitally through the Click 4 Food ordering app. The order is placed the same day, which shortens the delivery period. Payments are made in advance, which also means less hassle for employees in the company. No more exchanging money, no more transfers via Payconiq...
Do you feel that with DARKK you have conquered a unique market position?
Benjamin: I do not think we want to pretend that we are unique. There are already other similar formulas among our competitors. Of course, online payments have been around for a while. But we do want to distinguish ourselves in another way: our prices are lower for consumers because we have a contract with employers. You have to see that as a kind of subsidy. This is not unique either; another company might do this too, but they usually don't. We do this. We do. That is our innovative added value.
Wesley: I think it is also unique that we, as a company, can offer sandwiches at the level of quality and safety that only Compass Group can guarantee. We are a food service company with plenty of experience in that area.
Benjamin: Delivering sandwiches is one aspect we do today. I might be getting a bit ahead of myself, but an upgrade to this story might be that we could even deliver our staff right to your site. You could then, for example, book someone from us to come to your company for two hours and pour out soup in a professional manner. I think this service aspect is even more unique than the food delivery aspect. Service on site, ordered digitally via an app.
When it comes to timing, this can be diverse, serving food for an hour at lunchtime, replenishing coffee machines afterwards, etc. The B2B dimension of this could also prove to be interesting in the future, where we could develop × number of catering formulas for meeting rooms, for example, tailored to your needs.
Wesley: This broad offer is what I think is the unique selling point of DARKK.
Benjamin: We can flourish in a B2C and B2B context, and we can even provide an on-site service if desired.
The name DARKK is of course an allusion to the trend of 'dark kitchens', kitchens that produce meals without a physical place to eat. It is a somewhat atypical name, but it is striking. How do you feel about it?
Benjamin: I think it is a daring name with guts, something that is allowed in this sector. Personally, I think a name should sound and feel good, and that is certainly the case here. The reference to the 'dark kitchens' is a nice touch. Wesley, have you already received reactions to that name?
Wesley: People laugh sometimes, but every reaction is a reaction, and the name sticks.
DARKK can offer a wide range of catering, with attention to quality and safety of a high level...
When did you start developing DARKK as a service?
Benjamin: The demand for DARKK actually arose more or less out of developments resulting from the coronapandemic. During the crisis, we initially had other priorities at Compass Group; we were busy further monitoring our existing business and adapting it where necessary. Gradually, we realised that there would be a demand for a concept such as DARKK. In mid-September, we started selling DARKK as a service during the relaunch. Over a period of 6-7 weeks, we were able to start delivering to 10 accounts. And those 10 accounts were spread across the whole country. A site in Brussels, Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent ... We mainly deliver B2C, some are also B2B.
We then also started to deliver within Compass. This is, of course, also DARKK's trump card: if there is a need, our own colleagues can also rely on us for a certain service when necessary. For example, Medirest, our food and knowledge partner in the healthcare sector, has already benefited from our service on several occasions. This is something we definitely want to expand, standardise and professionalise in the future.
What are the growth opportunities for DARKK?
At the moment, we mainly see opportunities when it comes to increasing scale. In Antwerp and Turnhout, we could also start up a CPU (= central production unit). There are also opportunities in Kortrijk and Waregem. We are already actively making certain agreements in this respect. In 2022, we will also use digital campaigns and content marketing to look for extra customers for our service.
What do you personally find so interesting about sending DARKK?
Wesley: I find it fascinating because I can look at all the possibilities to achieve the growth of DARKK. Seeing a new project evolve in an upward trend gives me satisfaction.
Benjamin: Compass is an environment in which you can also start new projects with some comfort. The budget and know-how are already there. For DARKK, for example, we were able to work together with our marketing team, who provided eye-catching branding, which we have since been able to put on our leased vehicles. Our purchasing department has also provided a lot of support, especially when it came to choosing the packaging for our meals.
We also received nutritional advice from our nutritionists, and we were able to ask our IT service to provide an ordering platform ... Compass provides us with professional support, enabling us to quickly ensure success.
It is certainly a source of pride to be able to work on this project and to see it grow so quickly. If you see what we can already deliver every day across ten locations, then that is quite impressive ... Compass Group Benelux has also given us plenty of compliments and encouragement.
What challenges do you still face?
With expansion there are always logistical challenges, of course. On the one hand, we have the possibility of using our own leased vehicles thanks to Compass. But on the other hand, we are also looking for additional partners who can provide us with transport. Today, we are already working together with Nestor, a temporary employment agency for people over 50 who want to try a flex-job. So today we already have some profiles who will deliver our transport containers to customers with their own car. In the future, we will certainly have to be inventive and make do with such services.
My dream is also to be able to shorten the delivery time of DARKK meals even more, in the form of flash deliverers, for example, who can deliver quickly by bicycle. For this, we are going to have to be able to set up even more CPUs, of course.
Thanks for the interview guys!
Benjamin: You're welcome.
Wesley: With pleasure.