Australian food chain Sushi Sushi is expanding into New Zealand following an acquisition which will see private equity firm Odyssey take a majority stake in the company.
Sushi Sushi, made up of a network of 137 locations in Australia, has plans to open 30 quick service restaurants in New Zealand, focusing on Auckland, Christchurch and then Wellington in the first instance.
The launch into New Zealand is the first part of a larger international expansion plan driven by Odyssey which will see the brand move into other markets such as Malaysia, Britain, the United States and Dubai. It is also preparing to roll-out stores to the Australian state of New South Wales later in the year.
Founded in Melbourne in 1998 by Anna Kasman, Sushi Sushi will open its first store this side of the ditch in Botany Town Centre in May.
Chief executive Scott Meneilly said the launch into New Zealand had been on the company's radar for quite some time and made sense as the first country to expand to overseas given its shared similarities with Australia.
IBIS reports show sushi is in the top-three most requested healthy food in New Zealand, and Japanese food in general is a fast-growing category in the market.
Meneilly said the company's food offering was different to what was already available in the market: "We don't think we're going to be directly competing with others."
Sushi Sushi's 85 sq m store under development in Botany will feature a roll-your-own sushi bar and a digital koi pond projected on the wall.
"The Koi is a big part of our brand, it's a really large fish that means a lot in Japanese culture, especially around attitude - it is a fish that swims up stream, it really represents the culture of our business and the fact that we do try and do things differently," he said.
At Sushi Sushi you can expect to try Mexican-inspired sushi, sushi sandwiches and sushi made with beetroot rice, among other unusual creations.
The business is eyeing around 30 stores in New Zealand in the next three years.
"We're hoping the brand is going to be really well received, the benefit New Zealand has is incredible produce so the freshness of that will really shine through in our product."
Expansion into New South Wales will be a focus for Sushi Sushi for the second-half of the year, Meneilly said, and then it will move into Malaysia next year.
In Australia it also has a wholesale arm to its business, supplying product to around 90 retailers outside if its brand.
Meneilly was previously the head of Boost Juice, the Australian arm of the business, and for the past four year CEO of parent company Retail Zoo.
"Expanding into a new market always has unique challenges. In New Zealand, it's first of all about sourcing and making sure that we can get all of the appropriate ingredients and the things we can't get, how do we work around that."
Produce not so easy to come by in New Zealand is avocado, Meneilly said. "Avocado in Australia is really quite easy year-round whereas in New Zealand that's more challenging - it's very hard to get them year-round in New Zealand and when they do come the seed is much larger in the actual fruit that it is in Australia so your yield is less and therefore it's much more expensive - there's always a lot to work through when expanding internationally."
Demand for convenience and fresh healthy food was driving growth in the sushi and Japanese food market, Meneilly said.