Leon and Let Die? Healthy fast-food chain transforms for our COVID-19 reality

April 12, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

Leon has rapidly altered its business plan by turning some of its restaurants into mini supermarkets and providing an “Ocado-style” home delivery in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

What does this mean?

The Government’s decision to temporarily close all restaurants, bars and pubs on 20 March 2020 to “flatten the curve” of the virus led to a fear of food shortages and lay-offs in the catering industry. With this in mind, Leon is to continue business by marketing its boxes as a ready meal and has importantly aligned itself with the NHS to sustain their efforts. A recent twitter post states how Leon has served over 13,000 takeaway and delivery meals to NHS workers (with a 50% discount) in a week. CEO and founder John Vincent has also stated that any profit made during this period will be donated to the NHS. 

Whilst abiding by government advice, locations with a high proportion of NHS teams or essential workers as customers are also to remain open. This action is contrary to that of many other food outlets who have since completely shut their doors. Importantly though, for those concerned about the safety and welfare of employees, Leon has stated that team members do not have to work if they do not wish to and instead will be supported by the Government furlough scheme.

What's the big picture effect?

This story highlights the transformative effect that coronavirus is having on the food industry, and more widely, on the UK economy. Previously stable businesses have been coerced into making quick decisions to even stay afloat. 

Leon’s efforts form part of a nationwide effort to adapt, generate cash flow and minimise the number of redundancies. However, it is important not to underestimate the sheer intensity of its diversification efforts. From providing updated training for workers to managing new supply chains and logistics (as Leon previously relied on Murcia in Spain), as well as setting up an e-commerce website are big steps to take in a time-pressured environment. Some changes will require extensive legal support, such as drafting new contracts and establishing Leon’s new partnerships in a joint venture capacity with the likes of Absolute Taste and the Mexican chain Wahaca. Others relate directly to business growth, epitomised by an appeal for volunteers on the company’s LinkedIn page. 

Naturally, the outbreak has produced a seismic reaction across the sector. Delivery platforms, such as Uber Eats, have taken the unprecedented step of waiving delivery fees. Meanwhile, the restaurant industry’s move to takeaway services has only been made possible by the relaxation of planning permission regulations. Where previously you would need to acquire separate permission, local food businesses can now service without it for 12 months, simply alerting the local authority about the new use. It is uncertain whether takeaways and delivery options will become the norm in the long term, but it is perhaps no surprise that there is a push to create a new nationwide habit. 

Equally, there is reason to believe that how businesses are behaving throughout this pandemic is not going to be unnoticed by consumers. In an ever more ethically minded society, staying open in this environment has to be substantiated by a real societal need rather than the traditional cost-benefit mode of analysis. Ultimately, Leon’s response highlights the parameters of what is achievable in dealing with increased demand, setting a precedent for employee welfare, and according to Vincent, doing “the right thing”.

Report written by Katrina Hughes

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