This up-and-coming restaurant chain studied McDonald's, Starbucks, and Chipotle to take them down

This fast-casual chain is one of the fastest-growing concepts in the world.

Freshii doubled its locations in the last year, opening 120 locations in 2015 to bring the company to a total of more than 200 units. This year, the company plans to double that figure again.

“When you look at not just our growth, but how much money we spent to achieve said growth… it’s unprecedented,” Freshii CEO Matthew Corrin told Business Insider.

According to Corrin, the company hasn’t spent any money on franchise advertising and has received less than $5 million in funding, in contrast to multi-million dollar funding rounds at fast-casual competitors like Sweetgreen and Dig Inn. Despite the lesser funding, Corrin says Freshii’s comparable sales growth is beating all publicly-traded rivals.

Talking to Corrin, it is clear he has carefully studied what makes the biggest brands in the world tick. Here’s what he has learned from some of the most successful companies around — and how he hopes to take them down.

Chipotle: Market differently.

Freshii made national headlines when Corrin published an open letter to McDonald’s last year, challenging the fast-food giant to offer healthier options. The stunt was just the first for Corrin, who has since appeared on Undercover Boss and most recently introduced a burrito deal coinciding with Chipotle’s shut down. On February 8, the chain is offering 50% off all Mexican-inspired menu items, as Chipotle holds a company-wide food safety meeting.

“If [Chipotle] wants to talk about it, I’m going to be part of the story too,” says Corrin. “They know what they’re doing.”

While the deal is a pointed wink at Chipotle’s struggles, it is also an adoption of the larger chain’s traditionally fantastic marketing methods. Chipotle’s decision to broadcast new safety measures by closing locations is a continuation of the company’s ongoing marketing plan that emphasises transparency and freshness.

It’s also a better way to appeal to millennials. While younger customers hate most overt marketing campaigns, unexpected stunts and related press coverage have helped Freshii attract younger customers and franchisees. In fact, Corrin says 85% of Freshii franchise owners are millennials, compared to less than 12% of the industry as a whole.

“We need to do things that catch the attention of press,” he says. “If the headline of a piece is really interesting, it literally sells franchises.”

Starbucks: Think beyond restaurants.

However, Freshii doesn’t want to become Chipotle 2.0. Instead, it wants to meet customers where they already are, similar to Starbucks’ model for becoming omnipresent.

“Starbucks is in hundreds of bookstores, thousands of grocery stores, every airport, every college campus, lots of corporate campuses,” says Corrin. “Starbucks became the preferred brand for the utility of caffeine. We want to become the preferred brand for the utility of fuel.”

Freshii partnered with Target last year to open nine Freshii locations, and teamed up with Equinox to open a location in a fitness center in 2009. Corrin hints more partnerships are on the horizon.

“All these fast-casual brands are competing for the same end-cap units,” says Corrin. “We’re not interested in playing that game of competing for real estate.”

Zara: There’s no shame in selling knock-offs.

Corrin says that the most direct parallel for Freshii is actually in the world of fashion. Just as Zara brings fashion from runways to the masses, Freshii is working to make healthy food more accessible.

“We go around the world to boutique, local, one-off restaurants in really foodie cities, and every 70 days we bring really healthy menu items to the masses,” says Corrin, who used to work for fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. “The reason that Zara is the most successful fashion retailer in the world is that they never have fashion misses, because you don’t miss if you’re not inventing. And, they’re not inventing.”

The knock-off-centric business model also gives the chain a certain degree of flexibility. Instead of being the “Chipotle of [insert food here],” the company can constantly shift the menu to keep up with the latest health trends around the world.

That means more flexibility in how Freshii boosts sales. On February 16, the company is launching “Meal Box,” a meal plan that ships breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks to customers for increments of one, three, five, or 30 days. At test locations, Corrin says the services boosted sales by 25%.

McDonald’s: Go global.

McDonald's in China McDonaldsJonathan GarberMcDonald’s in the Wudaokou neighbourhood of Beijing.

Freshii’s combative letter to McDonald’s helped put the brand on the map. Now, the chain wants to be as big as its rival.

With locations in more than 80 cities and 15 countries just a decade after the first Freshii opened in Toronto, the chain is aggressively expanding internationally.

“The very simple thesis was the longer we waited the more American — North American — we’d be building our brand,” says Corrin. “Then, inevitably we’d be building something that was American-centric.”

Freshii adjusts its menu around the world to fit local tastes — a model that Corrin says is influenced by McDonald’s global domination. However, ultimately, Corrin believes Freshii offers something the old-school fast-food giant lacks.

“I’m not a snotty chef,” says Corrin. “I just want good wholesome food… There’s a lot of people like that.”

NOW WATCH: Poké is the next healthy fast food trend

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