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My Interview with Martin Bates, the New CEO of Organic Avenue

organic-avenue-upper-west-side

Just the other day, Organic Avenue, one of the dominant players in the New York City pressed organic juice scene, made a big splash by announcing a new CEO, Martin Bates.

With more than 20 years of experience in the food service business, Martin Bates has the perfect background to take Organic Avenue to the next level and to fulfill the company’s ambitions of becoming a national brand.

He comes from Pret A Manger, where he grew the U.S. operations from a handful of stores in New York City to more than 50 locations with additional outlets in Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Controlled by private equity firm Weld North, Organic Avenue not only has the necessary financial backing to expand throughout the country but it now has a proven restaurant veteran to execute its ambitious business plan.

This morning, I caught up with Martin Bates and spoke to him about all things related to Organic Avenue.

What attracted you to the Organic Avenue opportunity?

Health is a great space to be in and juicing is skyrocketing, in terms of demand. Overall, people are becoming more conscious about what they are putting into their bodies, and it was just the right time for something like this.

Also, I have been a customer of Organic Avenue for the last year and have been drinking their green juices.  It’s a healthy place to get a quick salad, and the products taste great.

How many new stores will you be opening in the next 18 months and where will they be located?

It is way too early to give exact answers to those questions.

What I can tell you, however, is that we have not quite nailed it yet – there are different retail store sizes of Organic Avenue. My job is to nail it first before we scale it. We need to make sure that we can scale and not dilute the customer experience.

How do you anticipate the product mix changing, if at all?

Again, it is still too early to comment on the exact food changes that we will make, but taste has to come first. The food needs to be delicious, and we will continue developing it in the right way.

What are your thoughts on Organic Avenue’s competitive landscape?

When it comes to juice, there are a lot of opinions on this subject – should it be done on site, is High Pressure Pasteurization technology (HPP) the right way to go. It almost seems polarizing.

The raw organic juice business is still in its infancy, and there is a long way to go before there is any level of saturation.

Will Organic Avenue be using HPP on its juices?

If there are wholesale opportunities, we’ll have no choice but to use HPP. On the store level, it is too early to tell.

What can consumers expect from Organic Avenue?

They can expect a brand and a company that they can trust. We need to make sure we nurture that trust and continue to build our brand equity.

In terms of our products, consumers will be getting healthy food with great flavors. It will be mostly raw, vegan, and all organic.

What did you learn from Pret A Manger that you will be bringing to Organic Avenue?

Pret is a spectacular business. There were many key things that I learned there. Most important is to know the customer and maintain the integrity. It is about doing the right thing for the customer, the employees, and as a corporate citizen.

MY TAKE

Ever since Jonathan Grayer, the CEO and Chairman of Weld North, took control of Organic Avenue last fall, it has been one good decision after the next. The thing that immediately comes to mind is that the company has upgraded the quality of its food, notably the salads, in a major way.

Yet, there is nothing more important than having a good CEO, and Jonathan Grayer hit the ball out of the park with this hire.

Martin Bates has experience scaling healthy grab-and-go retail outlets, possesses a strong understanding of real estate, and knows the major urban areas on the East Coast, the most likely places for Organic Avenue’s expansion over the next five years.

What really stood out for me during our conversation was what he said about ideal store size for a prototypical Organic Avenue location. Currently, they are all different sizes and in order for proper scaling to occur, this piece needs to be figured out – from both a profitability and customer experience standpoint. It makes total sense.

The future looks very, very bright for Organic Avenue.   sig11

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