Tortilla is looking to expand its relationship with Compass Group and SSP, by adding further sites in travel hub locations, CEO Richard Morris tells MCA.

Speaking alongside non-executive director Francesca Tiritiello, Morris also said the Mexican-inspired concept is aiming to further develop its plans for European expansion, with France, Germany, and Spain among its target markets.

“When our partners in the UAE approached us, it was an opportunity that gave us a lot of confidence,” he says. “Our stores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are performing well and we now have a franchise document developed with them that is relatively bulletproof.

“We’ve been very successful in universities and travel hubs as well. We’ll hopefully be adding to our estate with SSP this year.”

While Tortilla has nine franchise stores in the UK, Morris emphasises its franchising operations have got off to a slow start. Having proven the brand across geographies and formats, the business is ready to accelerate growth.

“It’s early days but we can already see Tortilla ticks all the boxes for a successful franchised model,” Tiritiello says. “It’s an attractive consumer proposition at a good price point and in line with food trends.

“It’s also a strong and agile business model with a relatively low investment and small footprint, efficient supply chain, and ease of operation to drive consistency across markets.”

Tortilla has taken note of its success with SSP and may kickstart its expansion to continental Europe in travel hubs, but hasn’t ruled out other formats, Morris adds.

It will also consider smaller markets such as the Netherlands in time.

“We’re proven successful in locations where high street, universities, or travel hubs. The opportunity in Europe is huge…Mexican is not a massive part of the eating out market in France and Germany, but that was the same in the UK 10 years ago.

“There are lots of mom-and-pop businesses doing something similar, but nobody’s scaled.”

While some aspects may be localised, Tortilla is looking to maintain its current food offer and service model to a large degree.

“We don’t want to make too many operational changes so that we end up trying something new,” Morris says.

“We look at the 80-20 rule, with 80% the same and 20% localisation,” Tiritiello adds. “These could be small adaptations to local consumer habits.”

Despite acknowledging challenges across European markets, he says the UK is one of the hardest places for hospitality businesses at the moment, particularly due to the tax burden on the sector.

While Tortilla is performing well in the UK, the “natural progression” is to grow quickly across Europe with strong partners and minimal capex.

“You have Chipotle with 3,152 sites, closely followed by Tortilla at 82…there’s a bit of opportunity there.”

Morris attributes the brand’s success in travel hubs to its differentiated offer, compared to burger, pizza, and bakery concepts.

“Our relationship with SSP blossomed because they had access to locations that were difficult to get a hold of. They saw us as differentiated.

“With Compass, we’re getting into locations near campuses and getting customers from an early life stage. We’re continually having conversations for the next stage.”

According to Morris, Tortilla’s London estate is booming owing to the return of both workers and tourists.

Major shopping centres are also performing “unbelievably well,” while the lunchtime offer has held up well on the high street and student towns have proven similarly resilient.

“It’s challenging out there but we think we’re better placed than most as a value option that’s customisable to be healthy – or not.”

“It’s important to remember the value offer will work in countries with similar inflation issues,” Tiritiello says. “There’s a trading down effect we can benefit from.”