Asia's food and beverage (F&B) scene is undergoing a shakeup as a new breed of investors look to establish a fast-casual sector in the region's infamously capricious industry.
"In the U.S., you have successful fast-casual brands like Chipotle but there are few iconic brands in Asia outside Japan. We want to change that," Hari Kumar, co-founder of investment firm LionRock Capital, told CNBC.
Fast-casual refers to restaurants that offer fresh, high quality ingredients but where customers pay for their orders at the counter as they would at a fast food resultant. Unlike casual dining, no wait staff is employed but an inviting decor sets it apart from quick-service restaurants, a.k.a. fast food chains.
Fast-casual has taken the U.S. market by storm in recent years, with the likes of Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread consistently surpassing their fast food rivals. For example, Panera reported a 7 percent annual revenue increase during the first quarter, compared to McDonald's 11 percent slide in the same period.
Taking a bet on the U.S. model, Singapore-based LionRock launched Zest Group three years ago, a firm focused on building fast-casual chains in Asia.
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Presently, Zest owns and operates three brands: Artisan Boulangerie, Twelve Cupcakes and Alt Pizza. Combined, the three have more than 40 outlets across Asia. Zest's strategy is to come up with the food concept, such a bakery or pizzeria, and then create operations from the ground up.
Product quality differentiates Zest's brands from the rest of the region's F&B space, according to Kumar. For Artisan Boulangerie, Zest brought in award-winning chef Eran Mayer from France and even imports flour from Paris on a regular basis.
"Things like that will be a standard," he said. "When it comes to expanding these brands throughout Asia, we focus on marketing. Unlike other brands that customize products from country to country, we're all about international, cosmopolitan trends, not local markets."