Cheikh Mboup, then Edible’s COO, expanded his role to include president in January. At the time, he noted, “We are more than arrangements, and our menu already reflects that.” That has never been clearer than during these past few weeks.

Following a surge in orders for its Fresh Fruit Produce Box during COVID-19, which quickly rose as the chain’s top seller, Edible realized it struck a chord. It’s no-contact delivery practices translated to a rapidly shifting, unprecedented dynamic. In response, it expanded the offering to include vegetables. This alongside treat bundles built for groups staying at home, like the Family Bundle, which combines a variety of options like popcorn, dipped fruit treats, and Edible apple donuts. And Edible stressed value, too, offering these fresh produce boxes and treat boxes starting at $24.99, with free delivery options.

Just this week, Edible launched a new product line designed for quarantine behavior as well: DIY fondue kits featuring its Chocolate Strawberry Dipping Kit.

That’s been the guidepost for Edible throughout the pandemic—meet customer behavior where it’s moving, but do so with systems that have defined the brand 1,100-unit brand of the past 21 years.

Mboup chatted with QSR about Edible’s strategy throughout COVID-19, and how it’s staying connecting to new and loyal customers alike.

Let’s start with Edible’s response. What did those early conversations look like? At what point did you realize this was going to truly change everything?

I’m sure the early conversations that took place at Edible were parallel with ones taking place behind closed doors for many companies throughout the world. When faced with a crisis, most companies initially go through a phase that is overwhelmed with fear due to the unknowns. Despite the unknowns, we started to identify what Edible needed to do in order to respond to what was happening in the world. We realized that pivoting our business during this time of uncertainty was crucial in order to help our customers and the communities we serve.

Expanding delivery and offering fresh vegetables appears to have been the big Edible change out of the gate. What led you all to realize this was a consumer need? And what steps did the brand have to take to make sure it could deliver, operationally, a new product like this?

As health concerns grew, we recognized that there were many people who would not be able to go to their local grocery stores to get what they needed in order to stay healthy. Expanding our delivery options and offering fresh produce would allow us to help alleviate some of the issues someone may face if he/she cannot go out during this time. We were able to launch this initiative over the course of just three days. Doing so required a chain of actions from contacting our vendor community and franchise partners to utilizing our ecommerce platform.

How did you—and how have you continued to—get the word out to customers? Not just that you’re still open, but that you’re offering something new, vital, and essential?

Since launching this initiative, our franchise network has done a great job informing communities throughout the nation of what Edible is now offering. This grassroots marketing approach combined with our local marketing team and our ecommerce platform did the work of telling the communities that we serve in North America that we’re open and have added essential categories.

With that said though, despite the success we have seen with these new categories, the majority of households are still not aware of these additions to our business, so we have a lot more marketing to do.

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Talk about the price point, bundle, and value element at play. How do you think this will play a role throughout COVID-19 disruption, especially as this progresses and people, perhaps, don’t want to keep stocking up at the grocery store every week?

Fresh produce is a need in households across the nation. By making fresh produce and other snack bundles available at a reasonable price point (fresh produce boxes start at just $24.99 and treat bundles start at just $37.97) with options for free, no-contact delivery, these new offerings quickly shot up to become top sellers for our business. We think that the immediate success we have been fortunate to experience by adding these new products to our business is simply the beginning to a new journey for us. It doesn’t replace the need for someone to want to get out of the home, but it is an option that each household could take advantage of now and in the future.

What role do you think value could play post COVID-19, especially if we’re in a recession?

For the last twenty years, Edible has been known for its arrangements and fresh fruits dipped in chocolate. Post COVID-19, we aim to be viewed as the company that helped individuals celebrate the greatness in their liveswhether it be a birthday or any other special occasiondespite all the uncertainty around them. But aside from that long-term vision, we’re focused on being a convenient and viable option for the mother who chooses to provide for her family with fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and other meal options delivered or picked up within hours. Our 1,000-plus locations in North America will be critical in accomplishing this goal.

Walk us through the decision-making process at Edible during the COVID-19 response. How has the organization brainstormed ideas and then executed them?

The decision-making process was centered around A) what is needed in the communities we serve during this time, and B) what would help our customers live as normal of a life as possible. With one of the largest refrigerated fleets in the nation and our access to fresh fruit and vegetables, it was simple for us to begin execution of an initiative that would address these concerns. We were also very fortunate that franchisees were supportive of this initiative. They were willing to give it a try in their stores as they thought it would be good for business and customers. This was a way for them to help serve their communities during this time.

How do you implement changes like this across a massive multi-unit system?

Implementing change in a company of our size requires both qualitative and quantitative attention. From a qualitative perspective: a chat with our franchisees, a chat with our vendor community and at last, when possible, some type of survey tailored to our customers. After the discoveries that come from this qualitative research, we tend to launch changes state-by-state with an ultimate goal of reaching all our stores in United States and Canada within a defined timeline. When it came to COVID-19 changes, those were immediate and across all stores in North America. We were grateful that our franchisees were on board with these changes right off the bat.

What are some tips for communicating ideas with franchisees?

My biggest tip to communicating ideas with franchisees would be to always have two-way communication. It should be a conversation between two parties, not just one talking to the other. Over the last month or so, we have been in constant communication with the entire Edible network in order to ensure everyone is aligned on our COVID-19 initiatives. During this two-way communication, it’s important to not only share the benefits, but to also share any risks and act as one, united organization. At Edible, we are lucky to have franchise partners who are willing to engage in these two-way conversations and are willing to try new things by pivoting quickly when needed.

Have you offered franchisees or employees any aid or relief during the crisis?

We have offered a platform paid for by the franchisor parent company which allows all franchisees to receive relief support offered via various federal and state programs. As for their employees, through a program named Edible Cares, we have supported them with urgent financial needs and have also maintained the roles of our employees during these tough times. We are also hiring dozens of temporary positions starting Monday, April 20. None of this would be possible without the great synergy we are seeing between the public and the private sector.

Just broadly speaking, what kind of timeline do you think we’re looking at? And what do you think life for restaurants will look like after the coronavirus? Early days and long term.

I think the timeline to normalcy, for lack of a better word, must be sectioned in three phases which retailers must gear up for:

Phase 1—“Stage of Fear”: This is when the borders are reopened and rules are relaxed. I think this phase will be within the next 60-90 days. In this phase, restaurants and retailers will operate with major tweaks such as less occupancy or limited menu based on what is needed and not necessarily what is wanted.

Phase 2—“Stage of Adaptation”: I think this will occur at different times in various states and regions within our nation in the next 120 days or so. In this phase, restaurants and retailers will need to market aggressively to the communities which they serve and focus on strengthening their ecommerce platforms and delivery services. This is critical to sustain growth for the years to come.

Phase 3—“Stage of the new normal”: Today, restaurants and retailers are purely surviving on delivery services, a sprinkle of ecommerce and phone orders. In my opinion, delivery services will trigger a very similar behavior as GPS has over time. The ease of using a GPS loosened the need to remember how to navigate from our most natural places. The businesses that are looking to adapt to the new normal must master delivery services, strengthen their ecommerce platforms and introduce authentic marketing materials

Business Advice, Customer Experience, Franchising, Restaurant Operations, Story, Edible Arrangements