Ted and Shey Tolfree started Crisp Creative Salads a little over two years ago after returning from living and working in New York. When they got back to Melbourne they realised there were very little healthy places selling freshly made food on the go – a stark contrast to what they’d become accustomed to in New York.

“We’d become quite used to eating in a different way in New York where the customer is very much in control of what they’re eating, what ingredients go into their [food] and really being part of that process of how the food is made,” says Ted.

“When we got back to Melbourne we saw there were too many suppliers that had this mentality of ‘this is the product that I want to give you, take it or leave it’ whereas we’d been used to eating in a way of ‘tell us what you want and we’ll make it for you’.”

It was because of that mentality that the Tolfrees decided to set up Crisp. The company sells salads, which isn’t unique in and of itself, but the difference is that every salad is made fresh to order, meaning customers will never get a pre-made soggy salad from one of its multiple Melbourne-based stores.  In fact, the made-to-order space is a growing one within the food industry, with brands enabling customers to lead their own food journey when it comes to taste and produce preferences.

Essentially, a customer enters a Crisp store and chooses their own salad in a four step process – for instance, deciding their choice of protein, salad ingredients and dressing. There is also the option of ordering directly off a menu – still made fresh to order.

Tolfree says right now there is a social change happening where consumers are feeling empowered to have what they want and how they want it – this will eventually become the expectation when it comes to on the go food and beverages. The concept rings true with major brands such as McDonalds even getting in on the action with customers now being able to design their own burgers and meals to be created fresh on the spot in stores around Australia.

Currently, Crisp has three retail stores in Melbourne -Goldsbrough Lane (under the Deloitte building), in Southern Cross Lane (under the Australia Post building) and on Clarendon Street in South Melbourne. Crisp is opening its 4th shop in the next couple of weeks at 530 Collins Street (underneath the Suncorp building). The company also has a strategic partnership with Virgin Active gyms where it supplies its products to their cafes and they onsell – everything is still made fresh to order – but the cafe is provided with the package to be able to assemble the meal, toss the salad and dress it in front of the customer.

Crisp’s target market is people working in corporate environments – that is, people who are short on time and want something that’s high quality, tasty and healthy for lunch. This is reflected in Crisp’s branding; it has a more sophisticated feel to it than other food retailers that you see in the marketplace.

Ted told Startup Daily they wanted something that was clean and sharp; and they wanted a trustworthy brand where customers can go in and out and have confidence in what they’re eating.

At the moment, the Tolfrees own all of the retail stores, though they have been approached by a number of investors and a handful of people interested in being franchisees. These types of opportunities are not on the cards right now, especially with the business only being a little over two years old. The Tolfrees expressed that there is a lot more development to take place across its products, processes and documentation before they would even consider walking down that path.

Part of this process is research and development activities that many people would not really be thinking would go into creating a salad bar.

“I don’t think many people realise that we carry out technical testing and refinement of our product (the menu) by working closely with a consultant chef,” says Ted.

“We knew certain flavour profiles that we wanted to achieve; we knew certain targets that we had to achieve in terms of calorie intake, gluten quantity and acidity of dressings to make sure that they were shelf stable. So with our consultant chef, we set out what we wanted to achieve and how we’d get there, but it takes quite a different form in a commercial pitch than to test recipes and ingredients.”

Ted stresses that they weren’t getting into the food market with off-the-shelf dressings or other off-the-shelf products that somebody could just use at home, because chances are they would just do that at home.

“We had to be unique in terms of how we sourced our material and the nutritional benefits and quantities of that. It was ongoing process. It took about four months to refining the menu but we worked very closely with our consultant chef, so we had a professional slant on that in terms of menu development,” says Ted.

“We then had our food manufacturer being part of the testing process so there was a flavour element that the chef could be involved in. We change our menu every quarter with what’s seasonal, what’s new, what our customers are asking for. So we’re back in the kitchen every three months or so to test new ideas and refine what’s going to hit the menu. And a lot of the things that don’t hit the menu.”

This constant testing and refining has meant that Crisp was eligible to claim the R&D Tax Incentive, something that many founders in the hospitality industry are not aware that they are eligible for.

“I was aware of an availability of the R&D tax incentive, but was not aware when we were in the kitchen spending thousands of dollars on a consultant chef and putting food products into the bin that don’t work, [that our processes] was classed as research and development,” says Ted.

“What we were doing was establishing our business, improving our products and bringing something new to the market place that wasn’t there. I didn’t know the extent of which we were able to claim. We’re on our second claim now, and it’s certainly facilitated more of that research expenditure, knowing that there is that opportunity.

“It’s not as much of a financial risk as it would’ve been without it.”

Crisp used PwC service Nifty Forms to complete its R&D tax incentive claim, with Ted coming across the online service via a friend.

“It was actually one of those interesting situations where I came in thinking ‘I’ll just go and take a quick look at the website and have a little scout around’,” says Ted. “I was quite astonished by the front page where it stated ‘it’s only going to take a few minutes’ and I’m was like ‘Nah, it’s R&D, it’s not true’. Then next thing I know I was submitting my application in a matter of minutes.

“Of course I needed to get more supporting information and a few things to follow up on, but what was a quick scout of the page turned into an actual application. It was amazing. It’s very user friendly, very accessible. I was amazed at the response of the team. You’ve actually got an individual looking at it, asking questions, asking for further information. They were very quick to respond and overall, it was a very easy process.”

The first claim was the most significant in terms of what Crisp was claiming. Ted says the claim immediately had a positive impact on cash flow and gave them a greater sense of confidence in what they were doing. Ted also agrees that more education and awareness of the R&D Tax Incentive need to exist so that entrepreneurs have greater clarity around exactly what it is and what it can do for them.

“You’ve got the blinkers on to get the business up and running and these things can come as a bit of a sideshow of the main event,” says Ted. “However, it is one of the most positive learning and developments you will have and it results in a positive cash flow situation. An education piece early on could be helpful.

“PwC was not only helpful in creating this form that was easy to fill in, but it was also helpful in articulating the principles of the programme that made it relevant to a small business as well.”

This article is sponsored by PwC | Nifty Forms. You can check if your startup is eligible for the R&D Tax Incentive by clicking here.

Startup Daily