First look: Mamago, Wagamama’s new food-to-go concept

Date : 28 November 2019

Nicola Knight

Senior Analyst - Food-To -Go

This week Japanese casual dining chain Wagamama entered the world of food-to-go with the opening Mamago in Fenchurch Street, London.  We visited the store to see how the cuisine, service and brand values that have made Wagamama such a success have translated into a site targeting the on-the-go consumer.

Design: building on the strengths of a recognised and trusted brand

Source: IGD Research

The striking black, white and red colourways of the Wagamama brand, and signature red star, have been retained making the “little sister” instantly recognisable to fans of the restaurant chain.  The simplicity of the menu layout and photos of key dishes are also reassuringly familiar.

Outside, clever use of neon signage and changing digital screens catch the eye of passing city workers (particularly on a grey November day!).  This makes the store stand out from the plethora of other food-to-go brands in the area and clearly communicates the types of products you can expect to find within.

Once inside, the open kitchen (a key feature of every Wagamama) spans the entire back wall.  To the right is a barista counter and juice bar.  This layout emphasises the freshness of dishes and demonstrates a confidence in the skills and expertise of kitchen staff - lessons learnt from the successful restaurant chain.

We also like the thoughtful design of the seating area. Partitions separate seating from service areas to give a more relaxing space to sit and eat and there are plenty of plugs and charging sockets. 

Food menu: substance and style that ticks current trend boxes

Source: IGD Research

Our ShopperVista research consistently shows consumers want to see more hot food-to-go options. This plays to Wagamama’s strengths and noodle and rice dishes, like those that form the staples of the restaurant menu, all feature. Each bowl comes packed with fresh vegetables and herbs to offer flavoursome, substantial and well-balanced hot meals on-the-go. There are vegetarian and vegan options aplenty, all clearly signposted.

Salads bowls provide a lighter option, and for extra convenience, wraps (using pumpkin and turmeric in the wrap itself) have been introduced for those that want something hand-held. Savoury side pots, such as chicken katsu bites, pineapple and kimchi slaw and turmeric egg with edamame, and sweet treats (the matcha coconut bar had to be tried!) provide an upselling opportunity whilst catering for the snacking mission.

Staff admitted that when specialising in Japanese cuisine, breakfast is a tough sell but it’s also an important day part opportunity. If bacon roll fans can be persuaded to be a little more adventurous, Mamago offers a broad range of healthy and hearty options, each with a Japanese twist: porridge pots with toppings such as yuzu marmalade, raspberry chia jam and mandarins; wraps using eggs, bacon or tofu as a filling; omelette pots in bacon, veggie or vegan varieties; and colourful “shake to wake” fruit pots for a lighter option.

Drinks: understanding the importance of quality coffee

Source: IGD Research

Our research highlights how food-to-go consumers will shop around to get a quality hot drink, even splitting their food-to-go mission between two stores to achieve this despite the extra time this takes. Wagamama shows it understands how important coffee is to the food-to-go proposition and has worked with a new supplier to develop the range for Mamago. The barista bar also offers a choice of 13 fresh smoothies, juices and shots branded to highlight their health benefits, e.g. remedy, revitalise, rejuvenate, get up and go. We really like this simple clear messaging.

Managing customer flows and time expectations

Source: IGD Research

All food and drinks are served over-counter, similar to a QSR, and like McDonalds Mamago uses touch screens to give customers control over ordering, reduce time spent queuing and free staff up for order prep. The screens look great and add to the overall interior design with colourful graphics. It was quiet when we visited and it will be interesting to see whether six screens are enough at peak times (Tossed salad bar sites have many more iPad style screens, around a dozen in some stores), or whether a grab’n’go unit is introduced to give an alternative path to purchase.

Although the service style may be similar to a QSR, Mamago makes it clear that such fresh food takes a little more time to prepare – “it’s lunch hour not rush hour”. The aim is to have all dishes served in four minutes from order placement (the day we visited the average was just over two minutes).  Time will tell whether food-to-go customers will be prepared to spend a little longer waiting for freshly prepared food, but our Shopper of the Future research shows that time optimisation is not just about being quick – it’s about experience and managing expectations. Mamago does this well through the use of tech, clear communications and the theatre of the open kitchen, so in our opinion the extra prep time should not be a barrier to success.

Final verdict:  all the makings of a market changing concept

Source: IGD Research

Wagamama show they really understand the difference between what consumers are looking for from a restaurant experience versus what they need from food-on-the-move. Devotees of Wagamama’s restaurants should be an easy target for this concept, and by ticking so many current trend boxes and executing them so well, new customers should be won over too.

Once any teething problems have been ironed out, Wagamama has the solid foundations of back-of-house systems, training processes and distribution channels which could support a quick roll out of Mamago, targeting busy city office workers and shoppers across London and beyond. If this happens, it could have a market-changing impact on cosumer expectations of food-to-go, and make other restaurant chains consider how they can tap into the growing food-to-go opportunity as casual dining continues to come under pressure: should they develop a homegrown concept, or buy one as Zizzi and Ask restaurnt owners Azzurri did when they acquired emerging Italian food-to-go chain Coco di Mama in 2015?

Recent second quarter results show Wagamama is outperforming the casual dining market with like-for-like sales of +6.3% and turnover increasing by +11%.  We can’t see any reason why its Mamago brand shouldn’t be another Wagamama success story.

Keep up to date with the latest food-to-go developments

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