Miami Burger

Getting into supermarkets and national chains

You might already have some Miami Burgers in your freezer.  You might have bought them at the supermarket or online through Ocado.  Or you might have eaten one at a Turtle Bay restaurant or the Slug & Lettuce pub chain. 

Like many successful businesses, Miami Burger’s journey wasn’t straightforward.  Miami Burger first started as a fast-food restaurant that positioned itself as a healthy and ethical alternative to McDonald’s.  Although the restaurant didn’t really take off, their burgers were so good that they soon found other companies asking if they could sell the burgers through their own outlets.

Miami’s founder Tom didn’t set out to make money with Miami Burger, he set out to bring better, healthier, more ethical and sustainable food to the world – without compromising on taste or trying to convince people to change their eating habits.  But he also had a background in the recruitment industry and used this skillset to get in front of the buyer at Morrisons supermarket (landing an exclusive one year deal) and Holland & Barrett to convince them to stock his frozen burgers in hundreds of their stores.

But the last couple of years hasn’t been an easy time for any retailer because of covid.  And although Holland & Barrett decided to shut down all their frozen food sales during the pandemic, and Morrisons turned out not to be a great fit for the Miami brand in the long-term, online sales through Ocado and sites like Mightly Plants, combined with deals to supply the large restaurant chains, has meant the Miami brand continues to grow.  So, although their original idea for a vegan fast food restaurant didn’t work out, they actually found a better way to get healthy vegan food to people.  As Tom says himself: “why take all the risk and costs of trying to build up to 30 restaurants over a couple of decades when you can just sell your products through other people’s?”

Miami Burger

Tom Bursnall


All sessions in this collection:

Scale-up: Fungtn Alcohol Free Beer

Fungtn was a pandemic lock-down start-up business, and the company’s founder Zoey Henderson used that time to take the product from idea to selling thousands of units a month in just one year. In this first episode of our scale-up series, Zoey tells us how she did it.

Watch session >

Scale-up: Better Nature Tempeh

Better Nature Tempeh hit their first 50 retailers within a couple of months of launching and were in 100 retailers within 6 months. In this second of our scaling up series, co-founder Chris King talks about how the company achieved such fast growth in their early years by embracing a testing culture.

Watch session >

Scale-up: Miami Burger

Miami’s founder Tom Bursnall didn’t originally launch Miami Burger to make money. However they soon won an exclusive one year deal with Morrisons supermarket and a listing in Holland & Barrett. In this third in our series of scaling-up interviews, Tom shares Miami Food’s story of how they broke into large retailers.

Watch session >

Key points from this session:

  • Miami Burger launched as a fast-food restaurant wanting to be a healthier version of McDonald’s.  Even though they were vegan themselves selling all-vegan products, they never led with the vegan message.
  • The support for the restaurant was deep but narrow; they had a loyal following but the restaurant wasn’t (usually) making money.
  • Tom used the restaurant to test and develop a concept, but then realised that the restaurant wasn’t the actual product – it was the healthy burger they had developed.
  • They soon got approached by other companies asking if they could buy the burgers to sell in their own restaurants as their vegan option.  Tom realised this was a far better way to build a business: why take decades to get to 30 restaurants and take on all that risk when they could instead sell their products through other chains like Turtle Bay.
  • Be flexible in your plan, go where the business is.
  • Having somewhere where you can get direct customer feedback and engage with your audience is really important, especially in the early days when you are still working out what people want and what your message is.
  • It’s not just important to create food that is vegan, you can also use it as an opportunity to create healthier, more sustainable and ethical food that is not just better for the environment, but for the public in general.
  • Miami Burger launched three products: two like-for-like products (one mimicking chicken, one mimicking beef) and one that was a more obvious vegiburger.  The vegiburger sold the least, even though potentially it was the better-tasting product.  People went for the familiar options first.
  • It’s easier to convert people to eating plant-based if you don’t try and change their eating habits – so can you give them the same product but just not made from animals.
  • Even when Miami Burger just had a single restaurant, they still had their products made in a factory to aid consistency, streamline the production process and with a view to scaling up.
  • In the early days, Miami was only selling 1,000 units a week but the minimum order quantity from a factory was 70,000 units – fortunately, the product had a long frozen shelf life but they had to organise off-site long-term storage.
  • Your manufacturing supplier needs to be BRC accredited if you are going to supply retailers and supermarkets.  If they are not, the large retailers simply won’t accept your product.
  • You still need to keep 100% control of your product even if someone else is making it.  Manufacturers can compromise on ingredients or add their own (to improve binding or shelf-life for example) if you just leave them to it.  A manufacturer doesn’t necessarily understand your brand values or realise why you don’t want certain ingredients adding that they would add as standard.
  • Miami Burger was able to pay for up-front manufacturing costs from other parts of Tom’s business, meaning they didn’t need to crowdfund or give equity away to investors.  Otherwise they would have had to have found funding to pay for the initial production.
  • Companies need to work within the system that currently exists.  Regardless of your ethical opinion of supermarkets, that’s still where the majority of the consumer are buying their food at the moment.  You have to get your products there too if you are going to convert more people to plant-based.
  • Miami Burger first approached big retailers like Morrisons and Holland & Barrett by using the skills that Tom had from his background in recruitment and headhunting – meaning he was well-practised in finding the right person to talk to in a company.
  • Back then, the supermarkets didn’t have a ‘head of plant-based’.  Tom needed to contact the ‘frozen buyer’.
  • Morrisons supermarket asked for exclusivity for twelve months in return for roll-out at 300 stores.  That meant all the other conversations the company was having with other retailers had to be brought to a close.
  • It was Miami Burger’s background, mission, brand and story that got Morrisons supermarket to first engage in a conversation with them – the product was then what got them to take the product on.
  • Tom took their chef to the first meeting so that they could cook the product from frozen in front of the buyers for them, to taste what the customer would taste.  And they loved it!  But without the initial building up of the brand and story, they wouldn’t have got to that point.
  • Tom was getting a one in ten reply rate from the large retailers – and that one reply would only come after lots of chases and follow-ups.
  • Timing of contact is important – the best time to contact a buyer is when you know they are renewing their range meaning you need to keep in touch until that happens.
  • The relationship with Morrisons didn’t end up working long-term because the lower prices that Morrison’s wanted to sell the product at couldn’t be achieved without compromising the quality of ingredients (and the ethical buying) that Miami Burger wanted to sustain.  However, they found that the online supermarket Ocado was a far better fit and happy to sell at a retail price that was sustainable.
  • Having multiple routes to customers have helped Miami Burger come through the pandemic: ie serving online retailers such as Ocado and the food-service industries.  But this has also been coupled with the frustration of some retailers not selling frozen foods anymore on-site, and stores and restaurants being forced to close.
  • Even when you think you’ve made it, business is never an easy ride – as has been proven by covid.
  • Monitoring what your customers are saying on their online reviews after buying your product (through someone like Ocado) is very useful for understanding who your customers are and what they want.  You can also click to see what other products they have reviewed.
  • Miami Burger, like many successful vegan brands, actually have a huge non-vegan customer base.
  • You can use your vegan product to educate these non-vegan customers and reconnect them to what the food they are eating actually is.
  • Large food brands will be brought to accountability on the health of their products in the future, likely by legislature.
  • It can be more successful to bring customers into eating plant-based through health – and you can teach them more as they progress along their journey with you.
  • You don’t need to forego profit for ethics.  In fact, the opposite is true.
  • Tom funded bringing an Israeli pro-vegan advert to the UK which reached 15 million people – but had many problems with the UK regulators in getting a pro-vegan advert on air.
  • Tom believes that the future of vegan food products will revolve around health and the sustainability of the ingredients.
  • The plant-based market is becoming even more competitive as the large brands cross-subsidise to bring down the sales prices of their plant-based lines – but it also means they are making the market bigger, meaning your slice of the pie will get bigger also.
  • Other vegan markets Tom thinks are open for growth in the future include pet food and a healthy vegan cheese!

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