Stuart Wright, head of insight at Wagamama, the Duke Street Capital-backed chain, has said that the brand had become functional and distanced from its values.

Speaking at MCA’s recent Marketing in Foodservice event, Wright said that remaining relevant to consumers is about maintaining an emotional connection and the brand, which has returned to strong like-for-like growth over the last two years, had become less effective than some of its competitors at fostering those emotional connections.

He said: “Wagamama had become part of diners’ repertoire, selected for specific occasions - often functional. The novelty passed – what made Wagamama exciting and innovative (eastern flavours, casual dining, technology, open kitchens) had become the norm. The business has undergone a reorientation, a shift from operationally-led to consumer focused.

“Wagamama is unique, a category of one. Although fundamentally sound, the overall dining experience was lacking. We had some positive brand perceptions – fresh, social, fun, but our only real point of connection was our food. Our target customers actively wanted more, but our experience had become very inflexible and difficult for new users.”

Wright said that consumer insight was key catalyst for the c120-strong group’s resurgence, which included evaluating the market and opportunity – target audiences, need states and proposition; re-engaging with the brand values and purpose and evolving its proposition.

He said: “We made five powerful changes: We set the teams free; evolved the experience through the day; brought the food into the environment; told our story and showed our character; and softened and humanised our environment.”

Wright told delegates on the day that businesses needed understand and focus on meeting consumer needs rather than “asking/expecting them to inform your innovation”.

He said: “Don’t underestimate the power of sharing and living your values to consumers. Evolution isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.”