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The upside of restaurant and retail pop-ups

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Restaurants, retailers and consumer brands are increasingly embracing the concept of the pop-up, temporary shops and eateries that offer an affordable way to introduce new products, try out innovative menu items and wow consumers with flashy new formats.

High-end chefs have been doing pop-up concepts in different formats for several years, often to try out new menu ideas,  experiment with new cuisines or to gain a following before opening a new permanent space, and the strategy is also catching on with less-pricey concepts. This week, UK-based Pret A Manger announced plans for a month-long pop-up with a 100% vegetarian menu, including popular meat-free items from the chain’s existing menu as well as new dishes it will test out in the temporary space.

Pop-ups may become even more popular as retailers downsize their permanent brick-and-mortar presence in a digital age, a trend that’s freeing up more store space for experimental pop-ups. At the same time, consumers are bombarded by more brand and marketing messages than ever before, making it necessary for merchants to find innovative new ways to cut through the clutter, said James Lamberti, chief marketing officer for San Francisco-based Quri.

The company works with CPG companies including P&G, Hormel, Heineken and Kraft Heinz, using a national army of consumers who are paid to gather real-time intelligence on in-store promotions using the company’s smartphone app. The data gives retailers and brands a chance to course correct early on in the promotion.

“The merchandising problems in a pop-up are no different than in any other store, and often you’re dealing with a more creative environment and it’s more important that you do a good job because consumers expect an edgy experience,” Lamberti said.

“Sometimes something dramatic is necessary to get them to view your brand or product with fresh eyes,” he said. “The pop-up trend is an embodiment of that; it’s an ultimate point of disruption.”

Using drama to grab consumers’ attention is a tactic pop-up eateries are using as well, as Eater reported this week in a  story about The Bunyadi, a London pop-up that will have a section for patrons who want to dine naked. And companies from other industries are also using food to promote their products, including Google which recently launched a pop-up eatery with global cuisine to promote its Google Translate app, Tech Times reported.

The need to do more with less to boost sales and raise brand awareness can also be a driving factor for restaurants, retailers and brands opting to create temporary shops, Lamberti said.

“There’s obviously great financial pressure on these guys, they’re feeling the pinch of margin pressures. This can be a very efficient way to break through rather than an expensive advertising play. And it serves as a test bed for new products or concepts.”

And, while pop-up shops aren’t just seasonal anymore, seasonality can play a role for merchants with distinct peaks and valleys during the year.

“A pop-up lets them capitalize on peak periods,” he said. “For brands being squeezed out of certain areas like downtown Manhattan by high rents, you don’t want to not be there. How do you have a presence without being on Madison Avenue?”

Here are some other ways companies are using pop-ups:

  • Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood will get a pop-up diner inspired by the TV show “Saved by the Bell” — Redeye Chicago
  • Eataly Chicago will host a James Beard-themed pop-up for two weekends starting Friday, in advance of the annual culinary awards named for the chef. The menu will include about 20 dishes from Beard’s cookbooks. — Chicagoist
  • Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland, Texas, will host a burger pop-up on the patio Friday to raise funds for the Red Cross to help victims of this week’s floods. — Houston Chronicle
  • Running apparel company Janji and at least three others opted to launch pop-up shops in vacant storefronts at the end of the Boston Marathon route to put themselves directly in front of their target audience. — Runner’s World


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