The Shelby Report recently caught up with Richard Hodgson, group CEO of Snowfox Group, and Stacy Kwon, president of Snowfox | JFE Franchising, to chat about its new sushi products. The two companies merged in 2019.
The Snowfox Group includes Snowfox (JFE), YO!, Bento and Taiko.
Snowfox, based in Houston, Texas, is one of the largest operators and franchise owners of sushi kiosks in the U.S.
Hodgson said YO! has a restaurant business that sells sushi and saw a “huge opportunity to build a global Japanese food company.” He said company officials “took a look around” to see who was selling Japanese food in the main markets and discovered a Canadian company, Bento Sushi, that was very successful.
Another company, Taiko Foods, was found close to home in the United Kingdom. Taiko had been supplying sushi to “the most premium U.K. retailer called Waitrose.”
YO! acquired those companies and late in 2018 “struck gold” when it discovered Kwon and Snowfox, Hodgson said.
“We fell in love with Stacy and her team, and the product and the business,” he said. “We merged the companies in August 2019. Since then, we have gone from strength to strength.”
He said the COVID-19 pandemic brought people into the supermarkets to buy sushi.
“Customers flocked to it during the first lockdown and have stayed with it,” Hodgson said. “We have seen a significant increase. Our sales have continued even since the restaurants reopened.”
He said the company is looking to expand its business in all three countries.
Grocery sushi in the U.K. previously was made in a factory and prepacked, Hodgson said. The company has learned from Snowfox, producing sushi on site, and has partnered with two of the biggest retailers in the U.K.
“We’re opening hundreds of sushi counters over the U.K. And I’m delighted to say that British consumers have fallen in love. It’s been a phenomenal success,” he said of the franchise model.
As more people want to eat better, sushi is a healthy good that tastes delicious, according to Hodgson.
“You see it when you just stop and look at customers in a supermarket, you see them attracted by the colorful display,” he said. “By investing in production and making sure there’s always an abundant display of very colorful product, it catches people’s attention.”
Snowfox offers several products, with the most popular being the California roll. It also has salmon, tuna, vegetarian or vegan rolls, different toppings – spicy, peanut, fried onions and crunchy.
“It’s just incredible,” Hodgson said. “There’s something for everyone.”
Hodgson added that the challenge is to get people who have never tried sushi to do so.
“It’s amazing how many people say, ‘I’ve yet to try sushi’…here in the U.S., it’s about 33 percent of adults that eat sushi. So two thirds of the people walking past [are booth] have yet to try sushi. And when we let them try it, they are genuinely, pleasantly surprised, which is why we’re so excited about the future.”