Richard O’Sullivan, chief executive of Boost Juice Bars and The Shake Lab has told MCA that the current trading environment is the toughest he has known in his 40 years working in the sector, with rapid expansion off the table as an option.

“For a lot of guys it really is just about staying in the game. It is so difficult out there – I would say the current climate is as challenging as I’ve known it, but for lots of different reasons,” he said. “We are all in the same boat – everyone is trying to work out where retail is going.

“We are lucky because we are in all the big regional shopping centres, where the attraction isn’t just retail, but leisure,” he said, adding that he sees The Shake Lab’s future growth as coming from this area, rather than pure retail.

“We could see a future [for The Shake Lab] in leisure environments, whether that is the cinema or other activities,” he explained. “We see that as a great expansion route for the brand.”

He said the business has had lot of franchise enquiries regarding The Shake Lab, particularly from overseas. “We don’t franchise, at the moment, but if the right operators came up overseas we would certainly consider it,” he added.

Parent company TD4 Brands secured £650k of funding last November in order to support the rollout of six new The Shake Lab sites over the proceeding four months.

O’Sullivan told MCA that four had opened since the funding was announced – Westfield White City (November 2017), Sheffield Meadowhall (December 2017), Birmingham Bullring (June 2018), and Bristol Cribbs Causeway (August 2018), taking its total to seven sites.

O’Sullivan said there were no further openings lined up, as yet, for the remainder of 2018, and that “we are being very cautious”, when it comes to what sites it takes on, however “if the right sites comes up we will always consider them”.

The Shake Lab sites have opened in four different formats– standalone mall kiosks, a dual kiosk (alongside a Boost), dual branded inline stores and a seated format – its Bristol site opened two weeks ago with space for 14 covers. “At the moment it’s a case of making sure of which formats work best for which particular demographics,” he said.

Despite the challenging market conditions generally, O’Sullivan said he was pleased with the performance of the concept. “It’s been an unusual year so far with the two extremities of very cold and very hot weather, so we are just seeing which of the formats work in store. We are very happy with Bristol Cribbs – the seated concept is working fantastically, as is the dual concept. It’s early days for the brand but it’s looking very promising.”

“In Nottingham, Oxford and Birmingham, where the stores are side by side, we are not seeing any cannibalisation, we are leveraging the estate as you would say,” he added.

O’Sullivan said the Boost Juice Bars estate remained steady at 30 sites, and that the business was focused on investing in its existing estate, and refurbishing older sites and formats, rather than actively looking to expand.