An Update on Clover Food Lab: Lean Thinking Meets Tasty Fast Food


4 1/2 years ago (time flies!) I wrote a blog piece on Clover Food Labs and how they were trying to combine lean thinking philosophy with a foodie love of quick, tasty, fresh food.

So what has happened to them?

In the time since that piece they’ve grown to 13 locations from 2 locations and they’re continuing to innovate and experiment. The lean thinking ethic is still there. For example, the company website lists their mistakes. As lean flow practitioners know, mistakes are not the problem; the problem is having a culture that treats mistakes as bad things rather than good things to learn from and study in order to improve.

What I love about the company is that the focus on lean principles — making to order, keeping the supply chains local and responsive, minimizing inventory — gives the organization a laser-sharp value proposition and a clear direction with respect to the overall strategic, organizational, IT, and business process architecture.

From their website:

If you work at Chipotle, or Panera, or McDonald’s you might think we’re crazy
At Clover we do a lot of things unlike other fast food companies. Why? For taste of course.

It’s hard to overstate how radically different we operate vs. our competitors. The way we operate is unheard of in our industry. I mean unheard of to the point that others don’t believe me until I show them around. No, really, there is no back-of-house, everything we do is visible to our customers. At Clover we:

Have no freezers. In the entire company. Not one.
Change our menu day-to-day to stay in sync with the best tasting seasonal ingredients.
Cut food as close as we can to when you’re going to eat (e.g., tomatoes are cut when you order)
Keep your money in your region. (40-85% of our ingredients are from the Northeast)
Use an unheard of amount of organic ingredients (typically 30-60% depending on time of year)
Don’t EVER use any preservatives, “natural flavors,” “flavor enhancers,” “artificial flavors”*
Make food that will improve your health (no need to tell the kids, but that food is good for them)
Allow you to see us making your food. We have no “back of house” anywhere in our company.
100% of what we hand you is compostable. OK, nothing to do with taste. But it’s the right thing to do.

You might be saying that they can do this because they are smaller and local and that is precisely the point. The largest chains need to think about how to operate more locally, to devolve decision-making closer to local markets. This flies in the face of scale operations and centralized control, but that is the difference between lean thinking and building large monument systems and structures.

One Comment on “An Update on Clover Food Lab: Lean Thinking Meets Tasty Fast Food”

  1. Rod Morgan says:

    Thanks for the share, Bruce!

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