This week, the Financial Times revealed that popular casual dining chain Wagamama, valued at up to £750 million, could be sold as early as this summer.
Launched in 1992, the chain has grown to over 130 restaurants in the UK, alongside more than 60 abroad. Last year saw sales grow by 8%, in stark contrast to the wider sector which has seen high street brands such as Byron, Jamie’s Italian, Strada, Prezzo & Carluccio’s face financial difficulties in recent months.
With pressures on costs driven by National Living Wage, shortage of available labour and uncertainty over imports due to Brexit, the sector is undoubtedly facing uncertain times. So why have Wagamama’s current owners decided to sell and why are there reported to be a host of potential buyers? Just what does set Wagamama apart?
The Big Data View
Using our suite of social listening tools, onefourzero examined online sentiment towards Wagamama and a selection of its competitors to establish the drivers of this growth in a notoriously difficult sector and, crucially, how likely it is to continue.
We examined over 125,000 posts on social media, review sites and forums from the last eight months which mentioned the chain or its key competitors – YO Sushi, Nando’s, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Pizza Express.
We analysed the proportion of posts with positive, neutral and negative sentiment to give each brand a net score.
Overall Brand Sentiment
While competitor Nando’s generated almost four times as many posts as Wagamama, the brand scored the lowest overall in terms of sentiment, with a net positive sentiment of 15. Wagamama was ahead of all competitors in generating 51% of positive posts, with a net score of 31.
We then drilled down further to establish the factors behind this positive sentiment by examining price, customer service, and quality of food.
When it comes to price, Wagamama generated relatively few conversations (which is not necessarily a bad thing), and the highest net sentiment score of 11. This suggests that customers see the chain as good value for money, vital in an era of stagnating wages and decreasing disposable income. This positive sentiment also suggests that Wagamama could consider introducing limited price increases in future without provoking a negative reaction.
On quality of food, Wagamama again scored the highest of the brands examined, yet competitor YO Sushi came a very close second, with a net score of just one point lower. To retain its leading position in the market, the chain should invest in creating new menu choices to continue appealing to fast-changing consumer tastes.
When it comes to service, Wagamama scored much lower, as did all brands, but still generated the highest net score. The lower scores all-round suggest customers are most likely to be vocal on social media regarding service, and that improving this area is crucial in ensuring a brand’s reputation and value.
Although the chain does not yet generate the volume of conversation of its larger competitors Nando’s and Pizza Express, Wagamama’s strong scores across all metrics examined shows why its results are outperforming the wider market and why there is likely to be significant interest in a sale.
It also suggests there is potential for significant growth in the future, both in the UK and internationally, which will appeal to the Private Equity firms who are rumoured to be lining up bids.
Last year the Observer claimed that Wagamama has ‘changed the way we eat’ – watch this space as they’re not done yet.
Photo by Garry Knight