Hitting the Sweet Spot

5 Franchises that are helping Canadians indulge their dessert cravings

Canadians have always had a sweet tooth, and typically we’ve always wanted our desserts after a meal. But new market research shows that’s changing, as we now increasingly see it as an anytime occasion. No wonder there’s been a boom in dessert-specific franchises that can satisfy our cravings when and how we want. Here are five that have been making some sweet moves across the country recently.

Marble Slab Creamery

When Cam Inglis tried Marble Slab Creamery for the first time 20 years ago in the U.S., he liked it so much that when he returned to Calgary, he started writing a business plan. By 2003, he had opened the first Canadian Marble Slab, and a year later he began expanding across the country. Today, there are more than 80 locations across the country.

So, what was it that attracted Inglis? Well, the uniqueness of the concept, for one, he says.

“Marble Slab is the largest player in Canada for gourmet ice cream, and we’ve secured that spot by using premium ingredients to make fresh ice cream along with baked, hand-rolled cones. Combining these with unlimited mix-ins provides a limitless assortment of options for different tastes, lifestyles, and budgets.”

All told, Marble Slab offers more than 50 flavours of ice cream and 30 mix-ins. They also have yogurt, ice cream cakes, and ice cream cupcakes.

For franchisees, the big advantages of the system are that it’s a fun product and environment, it’s easy to operate, and it’s a business model that’s been used successfully around the world, says Director of Marketing Mandy Etienne.

And now might be the best time to get in, she adds.

“We are presently experiencing a period of growth and expansion. We’re remodelling our 84 existing stores, opening stores in new markets, and adopting updated technology with digital menu boards and more effective POS systems.”

Poko Popcorn

Super-sugary snacks will definitely satisfy a sweet tooth, but sometimes a lighter, healthier treat will also suffice. Enter Poko Popcorn, a concept started by the Marble Slab folks back in 2015. There are now nine stores in western Canada, six of them combined with Marble Slab locations.

Most of those stores are in open-concept mall locations where customers get to see the popcorn being made in small batches right in front of their eyes. No oils or chemicals are used, and customers can mix and match from up to 15 different flavours, including vegan and gluten-free options.

The pluses for franchisees include limited competition and multiple revenue streams, such as online ordering, corporate gifts, and third-party delivery, says Director of Marketing Mandy Etienne.

Franchisees also value the fact that Marble Slab’s franchisor and corporate team own and operate it, says President and Franchisor Cam Inglis, because this gives them the confidence and support needed to run a successful business.

“And,” he adds, “proprietary recipes with direct shipping from our own distribution centre allows for simple operations and ongoing margin protection.”

As for the future, Etienne says they want to expand globally, but right now are dedicated to growth in Canada and the U.S.

“Popcorn is wholesome, low in calories, and versatile, which is why it’s one of North America’s oldest and most adored snacks and continues to fuel steady growth in the popcorn industry.”

Crepe Delicious

For Account Manager Melanie Nguon, the most important skill you need to be a good Crepe Delicious franchisee is an evolving mindset.

“If you’re willing to learn, you will be successful. If you’re not open to learning new operations, new marketing campaigns, and other centralized initiatives, you limit yourself from reaching new heights.”

It makes sense, given the evolving nature of the franchise. What Oded Yefet started in a local mall in 2004 is no longer just about crepes. Sure, those sweet and savoury triangles of dough are still the cornerstone, but now they also have panini sandwiches, salads, and gelato made fresh daily in-house.

“It’s something different,” says Nguon. “When you go to a mall or anywhere, it’s usually burgers, and other typical fast food options. However, with crepes, it’s lighter, it’s healthier, and it’s refreshing.”

Many of Crepe Delicious’ 60 locations are found in upscale malls, but others are expansive street locations and in high-traffic commercial buildings. The franchise is in seven provinces, and in the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

The big focus in the near future will be the U.S. (five will open there this year alone), but they’ll still be eyeing and opening locations in Canada.

In other words, it’s a time for growth at Crepe Delicious and — surprise, surprise — for learning new things. But Nguon’s message to new franchisees: don’t worry, we’ve got your back.

“The team that will be supporting them has over 100 years of operations and business experience combined — some have been Crepe Delicious franchisees themselves. So we understand the business, and we’ll be there any time they need us, not just nine to five.”

Cacao 70

Coffee is king in Canada. We drink more of it than 95 per cent of countries in the world. But that means a lot of cafés. And for Yingzhi Wang, that also means a smaller and smaller market. Back in 2010, he and a few colleagues wanted to start a beverage business in Montreal, but they couldn’t see a future in coffee.

“So, we sat down, brainstormed, and thought about three big beverages in the world: coffee, tea, and chocolate,” he says. “We knew Canadians consume a lot of chocolate, too. And so we went with it.”

It was a good call. A year and a half later, they opened the first Cacao 70 location in downtown Montreal — a decadent place serving up some seriously fine chocolate drinks. Now there are more than 30 locations across the country, one in the U.S., three in China, and one in Mexico.

Chocolate is still the star ingredient, but it’s not just about drinks. There are four concepts now: The Eatery, which serves brunch, lunch, and sweets; The Sweet House, with drinks, desserts, and all-day brunch; The Dip Shop, an ice cream parlour; and The Factory, where you get to see and taste how they test recipes and make chocolate bars.

Wang says Cacao 70 will be opening five or six more locations between May and December this year, and are looking at Manitoba, where they don’t have any stores, as well as areas outside of Canada.

“The more stores I open, the more I realize I need franchisees who have a passion for this,” he says. “You can have the best concept, but if you couldn’t find the right people, you won’t go anywhere.”


Sweet Jesus

About five years ago, a few creative masterminds and chefs gathered in a downtown Toronto restaurant with ice cream on the brain. They were there to develop their own unique ice cream creations — and they were good at it.  One common phrase uttered by the taste-testers was, you guessed it, “sweet Jesus that’s good!” And lo and behold, a franchise was born.

In September 2015, Sweet Jesus opened its first store in the back of a Mexican restaurant in Toronto’s entertainment district. Today there are a total of 20 units, most of them in Canada, in the U.S., and under the name Sweet Salvation in Dubai, and soon to open in Bangladesh.

Last year, the franchise became part of the multi-branded franchise conglomerate that own, among other brands, Yogen Früz®, Pinkberry®, Swensen’s®, Yogurty’s®, Yeh! Frozen Yogurt®, and other frozen dessert brands.

Company President Jeff Young says that Sweet Jesus has been successful so quickly because it has a special ability to create memorable brand experiences. And it’s done so, he adds, with delicious, social-media-worthy ice creams in a contemporary setting.

“I see it every time I visit our units: guests will take a selfie or picture of their order and post it on social media before they take their first lick or scoop of ice cream. It’s a very interesting phenomenon that happens inside our stores.”

Those stores are typically found in shopping centres and high-pedestrian traffic areas, such as downtown Toronto. But in the future, “don’t expect any new locations in the Greater Toronto Area,” says Young, as “that market is fully developed.”

“Still, there are some excellent markets available throughout Canada, the U.S., and internationally, and we’re always looking for high-quality franchisees who share in our vision of putting smiles on people’s faces and creating memorable experiences for our guests.”

By Jordan Whitehouse