Virgin Active & Lexington Catering: Dynamic Dining

Virgin Active & Lexington Catering: Dynamic Dining

Creating any F&B concept is a task, from nailing the menu to designing the style of service, but creating one that delivers both grab-and-go and able service to an audience that is super diet-conscious takes things to a new level.

Lexington Catering has announced a partnership with health and fitness chain Virgin Active, providing food and drink across its 43 UK clubs. Stepping out from its market stronghold of serving food to business and industry, Lexington has agreed an exciting move to take on commercial retail for the first time.

Enter the Athleat concept, a bespoke brand created by Lexington for use at Virgin Active’s sites whether they be inner city ‘express’ sites or in larger, resort-style centres.

“It focuses on serving freshly-made, high-quality food for the members of the health club to help them achieve their overall wellness goals,” explains Julia Edmonds, managing director of Lexington Catering.

“The venue is very keen that its food offering represents a very holistic approach to what they do as a business, which is about health and well-being.

“We are looking at the member demographic across different clubs. In some cases, for example the express clubs in London, you have members who are time-poor, who tend to train first thing in the morning or at lunchtime, or maybe on the way home, who are looking for something quick and easy to grab post-workout.

“Whereas the bigger clubs, outside of London, have a wide demographic, with a more community and family club feel. The Athleat brand needs to bridge across all the different demographics from the whole of the business.”

The first thing Lexington has done is identify the clubs in which there are the right facilities to create food on-site, while others benefit from daily deliveries.

“All of the clubs are quite different,” says Edmonds. “In some cases, there were really great facilities and we were able to put our product straight in. But there are other clubs where we have needed to make some changes. But generally speaking, we have worked with the facilities of each club and found the right solution, which is a combination of bought-in or made on-site products.
“In the small clubs that don’t have a café facility at all, we have worked with a company called Mother Vending, which is a fresh vending supplier geared towards healthy eating. It’s a really smart new way of offering healthy vending.”

Lexington has also been able to bring a healthy grab-and-go range that is offered in other parts of its business.

“Because not all of the clubs have kitchens, in some cases we work with a company that delivers them in for us, working to our specification and delivering them in on a daily basis, freshly made that day.”

Geared towards the express market, Lexington has also developed its click-and-collect option for members to order their grab-and-go options ahead and pick them up when leaving the centre.

There is also the development of a personalised F&B app, due to be launched in June, that will allow members to make bespoke decisions on their dining, whether it be to avoid gluten or even to suit the workout and training regime they go through in the gym.

“When people go on to the app, they will be able to tailor their own accounts and individual preferences around things they want to avoid, and it will highlight those things so they can see it clearly,” explains Edmonds. “They will be able to personalise their menu depending on whether they want high protein or no dairy or whatever it might look like – it won’t show those items on the menu for them.
“So, it can be really specific to individuals, health, well-being and dietary requirements.”

At the larger, resort-style Virgin Active centres, a core menu will be on offer, delivered through assisted table service.

“The menu items are made fresh to order, so members will go up to a counter and place their order – our chefs prepare that in the kitchen and it is then delivered to the table,” says Edmonds.

A coffee bar and more relaxed short-stay areas will be available for those who want a light snack or a coffee, while Lexington and Virgin will also work together to deliver more community-based dining options.

“We are also doing some nice things around the weekends, like barbecues on terraces where we can, in addition to the day-to-day services,” says Edmonds. “We are really working with Virgin to back up things that they are promoting within the club from a food perspective. We want to have a seamless membership experience.”

There is an extensive menu that includes everything from children’s meals, to satisfy the clubs with more family presence, to an offer for each of the different day parts.

“For example, breakfast is very important in the morning after a workout, but also evening meals where people may want to hang around and socialise with other members of the club.
“It’s really looking at all the different needs and finding something suitable.”
The menu will focus on the nutrition of each meal and allergy information, and certain nutritional information will be available on the menu or shelf ticket for express items.
“We are also finding that they are avoiding certain things like gluten and dairy,” says Edmonds. “All of the grab-and-go range has been calorie-counted and that info is available online. We will be looking to incorporate more information on to the menus over time – it’s all online now and is something we are incorporating on to the app.”

So, what made Virgin Active the right person for Lexington to move into retail and consumer catering?

“We were already serving a lot of Virgin Active members as we are predominantly serving business and industry within the city,” says Edmonds. “So, we knew a lot of the expectations people had, particularly within that marketplace. But, because we are a fresh food company and we have this health and well-being brand within our business, Virgin Active really loved that.
“Now it is about how we can develop that long-term with the members, so that it becomes synonymous with what people are looking for from a food perspective within the clubs. We are working very closely with the personal trainers so that they can understand the menus and advise what members can be eating. It’s a very holistic approach.”