PURCHASE, N.Y. — Beverage and food giant PepsiCo raised some eyebrows last year when it announced it was starting a virtual restaurant.
The one-month popup Pep’s Place, launched in partnership with Famous Dave’s, had a beverage-first menu that paired Pepsi drinks with food items.
The move seemed curious at the time. But its purpose became more clear Nov. 16, when PepsiCo said it would start advising restaurants on how to start their own ghost kitchens and virtual brands. The new service is part of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Foodservice Digital Lab, a consultancy created in 2019 to assist restaurants on all things digital as that side of the business became more prominent.
It’s now expanding Digital Lab to include help with delivery-only formats like ghost kitchens and virtual brands. Demand for those options continues to grow among restaurants, though they don’t always know the best place to start, said André Moraes, senior director of marketing at PepsiCo Foodservice.
“We’ve absolutely been hearing about ghost kitchens and virtual brands from many customers,” he said. “There’s demand for how to execute these properly.”
PepsiCo can advise restaurants on things like starting their own virtual brand, bringing an outside brand into their kitchen or outsourcing their concept to other restaurants, Moraes said.
It will lend its considerable marketing expertise to the effort as well as guidance on technology and menu. It can also draw from its first-hand experience with Pep’s Place.
Moraes said the project underscored the importance of discoverability and order flow for an online-only brand. “Understanding how guests will find you and how to make your brand and concept approachable to them is very important,” Moraes said.
He also emphasized training and quality control, from the food all the way down to the packaging.
PepsiCo will help restaurants with all of this, free of charge.
“What’s really important to us is that we’re being more than a beverage, snacks and food partner but being a go-to partner when it comes to opportunity like this,” Moraes said.
Despite inflation and a return to more normal dining habits, demand for restaurant delivery remains surprisingly strong. That continues to fuel interest in ghost kitchens and virtual brands as restaurants look to leverage fixed costs and generate more revenue.
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