Roger Bloem – Smullers

Roger Bloem – Smullers

Roger Bloem is marketer for Smullers, a snack bar chain with 28 locations at train stations in the Netherlands. Smullers was previously owned by NS Stations but is now owned by Lagardère Travel Retail. Roger is also co-founder of Cityguys: a lifestyle, hotspots and travel platform for men which focuses on food and hospitality. This year Roger made it onto the Top 100 best Marketers list in the Netherlands.

Main ingredients for brand growth

Smullers’ main KPI for brand growth is recognition. Roger: “We cater towards the people that take the train. If you don’t use the train, you won’t be at the station, and you won’t see us. Because we are only located in train stations, that’s the target group we’re focusing on. We want to make sure our brand recognition is the best it can be, and for our consumers to know what we stand for. When they leave, they need to leave with a good feeling; tasty food which was served quickly, while not missing the next train.”

Roger explains that at the end of the day, money has to be made. “Turnover and result ensure you can grow as a company”, he continues. “I also look at what competitors are doing, and focus on two things in particular. What’s happening around the station? Are companies growing, or not? Next to that, I look at competitors from a consumers’ perspective. He or she will compare Smullers with for example Febo. We want to make sure we are top of the class when it comes to pricing, quality, service and speed. There’s no other place you can buy a hot meal under 5 euros at the station, except for Smullers.”

Surprising your customer through innovation

According to Roger, product innovation is an important ingredient for growth. “If you offer the same product range throughout the year, you reach the same people throughout the year. The past year we have started rotating different products we offer. A good example is our milkshake- and ice cream range. If you’re advertising a strawberry milkshake, you won’t accomplish anything. You have to keep adding new things to surprise your customers. We started by adding a pistachio flavoured milkshake. Then we introduced a sea salt caramel flavour, and eventually launched the Chocolate Chili Shake in partnership with Tabasco. This is a flavour familiar to the cocktail scene, chocolate with spice. There are lots of opportunities to start these co-branding projects. Another benefit of these projects is that you’ll reach a whole new audience through the social media channels of your partners. So, these partnerships are very important. We dare to have crazy ideas and bring them to life. Think of pink french fry sauce, the kebab souffle and the World Cup souffle (WKaassoufflé) with orange cheese filling. We try to introduce these new ideas in all our categories. Another partnership is with the Vegetarische Slager (Vegetarian Butcher) to introduce the vegetarian burger. It does cannibalise a bit with the cheese souffle, because that’s what vegetarians used to eat as a subsidiary for meat at Smullers. But it does bring in a lot more turnover and result.”

Main sources for inspiration

“I take my inspiration from the work I do for Cityguys”, Roger explains. “I eat out every single day, and go to around a hundred restaurants and bars a month, which we then write about. I also attend events like Horecava, where I’m for instance spending one day with star chefs, and the other with frikandel’s. Which results in me spotting trends and taking those ideas back to the snacking scene. However, these trends do have to be close to mainstream in order to get a spot in our product range. Because if it’s still early days, you’re catering towards a very small number of people.”

Consumers and trends

When it comes to snacking, consumers often say something different than what they’re actually doing, Roger explains. “Everyone wants to eat healthier and be healthier. But, at the same time, people find the most ingenious reasons to treat themselves. Whenever they are at the station, they will still give into that temptation. They treat themselves to a hamburger, or comfort themselves with a croquet. Whether they’ve just missed the train, or are in a hurry and want to eat something quickly. We listen closely to our customers via social media. By looking at the bigger food trends, we can tell what works, and what doesn’t.”

Roger: “One of the biggest food trends of the past 5-10 years, is fast casual. Around 10, 15 years ago, you had restaurants and fast food. Nowadays, a huge fast casual segment is separating the two. Which leads to more people eating out, and making it easier for people to get a meal for one. But it also impacts the fast food industry as a whole. Chains such as Burger King and McDonalds can’t go up in price, because it will result in the same level of pricing a burger bar or a restaurant such as Vapiano has, the companies that truly offer a dining out experience. So, that segment can only go down in pricing, in order to win market share. Resulting in more ‘euro-deals’ and a market that’s heavily competing. Which will lead to a one-dollar-market such as in the US.”

Not Instagrammable

When asked about the biggest pitfalls in innovation, Roger feels that companies often innovate for the sake of innovating or technical possibilities: “Just because a new technical development was introduced, doesn’t mean people are waiting for it. Think of random QR-codes, or making apps from a campaign-perspective that don’t offer added value. It’s also interesting to see how many brands are pursuing influencer marketing or social media. ‘If your food isn’t Instagrammable, you don’t stand a chance’, which is interesting in certain segments, but doesn’t affect the whole industry. People are still going to restaurants for different reasons than just taking a photo of their food. Have you ever seen a burrito on Instagram? People are still eating those. And people won’t stop eating them, just because it doesn’t look that great on their feed.”