Food hall incubator and accelerator business Sessions has rolled out early-stage food brands to some 35 locations since restrictions eased.

Lost Boys Chicken, the Brighton-founded concept, has expanded to around 20 delivery-only kitchens nationwide under Sessions’ accelerator scheme.

Halo Burger, Pittabun and Fanny’s Kebabs are also being scaled up under a licensing arrangement, which sees operators such as ETM and hotel operators such as IHG take on the brands for delivery-only.

Sessions runs Shelter Hall in Brighton, a food hall business which aims to incubate and streamline food concepts, while giving them the opportunity to scale up via delivery in its accelerator business.

Founder Dan Warne, who was previously UK MD at Deliveroo, said too many virtual brands lacked the passion and consumer connection of founder-led brands.

“We want to ensure that that same customer connection, that same passion, work ethic, desire and art you get from a founder is present in the online world,” he told MCA.

“We think it’s really important to maintain that connection with what makes food great, even where you are scaling brands in the digital world, so you still do have that real person behind them.

“Because we are a both a bricks and mortar and a digitally-enabled business, we feel we can achieve that consumer connection that the physical world gives you, and that real founders give you, and blend that with an understanding of how to scale businesses rapidly for delivery in the digital world.” 

Warne said as the industry has opened up, Sessions had signed up a number of operators looking to utilise spare kitchen capacity.

He said rather than plugging in 10 different brands, which might have “no real heart and soul”, to make an additional £1,000 a week, the accelerator programme promised much greater returns, because of their “real founder story”.

The aim is to help brands grow, rather than create their own brands, Warne said.

“We’re not trying to invent virtual nonsense, which consumers don’t want anyway.

“I think there’s a risk we have this dystopian world where everything is created by a machine. We want to embrace technology and embrace the scale that you get from technology, but preserve the art that hospitality is all about.”

Sessions is discerning about the quality of operator it works with, in order to protect brand standards, he said.

The company charges operators a fee which wraps up all of cost associated with the programme, including the delivery fees from the third party (an exclusive partnership with Deliveroo), proprietary technology, onboarding and the brand licensing fee.

Sessions creates a playbook with the brand, which includes recipes, pricing, and supply chain including partnership with a few major wholesalers. In the case Lost Boys, their signature sauces are sourced directly.

With delivery-only brands becoming a hot topic in recent years, Warne said Sessions stands out because of the personality behind the concepts.

“This proliferation of brands created in the virtual world, there’s a lot of it, and in my mind, they’re not real things, there’s no personality behind them.

“I want to embrace delivery as a category and the scalability that gives, but I want to do it in a way that considers the emotive and the artistic side of food.”