SumoSalad serves up innovation ‘one bite’ at a time

From MySumo to SumoSociety, food retailer dishes out personalised health platforms

Ask SumoSalad co-founder and CEO, Luke Baylis, what it means to be innovative, and he’ll tell you it requires a lot of hard work, creativity and the ability to communicate.

“To me, innovation is pushing the parameters of the customer's expectation - where the industry is - and looking into where the greatest opportunity lies in the future - and then creating a product, a process or experience around that,” Baylis told CMO.

Baylis is on a mission to help people make healthier food choices and provide a more personalised gastronomy experience. The company, SumoSalad, has about 100 stores and close to 1000 staff across its network, serving eight million Australian salads per annum.

In a $19 billion sector, Baylis said innovation has steered the company’s success from the outset, helping it become one of the first healthy food chains available in a sector that has witnessed a significant market shift.

“Our purpose is to change the way the world eats for the better, and to try to democratise healthy food so it can be made available to all Australians, and all people that wish to consume it,” Baylis said. “With that comes a huge responsibility in terms of making sure people understand it and are educated by it. It is easy, it is accessible so it gives us a very strong platform for innovation.”

Luke Baylis
Luke Baylis

Speaking candidly with CMO about the birth of the company, Baylis admitted he was overweight and wanted to start a business that addressed a healthier lifestyle and promoted healthier living.

“I started the business with my co-founder 14 years ago and that was on a personal need. I was working overseas and put on about 50 kilos through living an indulgent unhealthy lifestyle. I came back to Australia and I just needed to make a lifestyle change,” he said. “And so we started eating healthy, started exercising, and the change to my mentality, to productivity, to my relationships was just so huge that the more I did it, the more I understood the importance of it and the benefits of it.

“That’s why we created the Sumo business - because if two big fat blokes can make such a huge transformation, then why can’t we help the rest of the world? Why can’t we help educate the rest of the world to make similar decisions?”  

Admittedly, decisions about health are confusing, Baylis said. “Many people are baffled by it. Should I be vegan, should I be paleo, should I eat carbs,” he said.

“Whatever world view you have, there’s data to support that world view. It’s very hard to navigate through all of that. What we want to do is make health really easy and accessible. That is the underlying customer problem we are trying to achieve, and we are using both technology and physical retail to do that.”

Getting personal

SumoSalad is engrossed with its work in personalisation, particularly around the personalised health platform currently being built, named MySumo.

“We are creating a platform which makes health personalised down to an almost anatomical level, so everyone looks at people's specific blueprints and provides them with a solution that best suits them to avoid a lot of the confusion associated with making different dietary choices,” Baylis explained.

Essentially, MySumo takes a range of data inputs from taste preferences to biometrical data to health objective data (aspirational data and psychometric data) to sophisticated medical data, which will be added in the future. That information will then provide customers with a bespoke set of guidelines around what consumers need to be eating in order to maximise their personal potential.

Additionally, the company is creating SumoSociety, an open platform database where people can share content (health insights and blogs) specific to their needs or objectives. SumoSociety, which works in conjunction with MySumo, will provide content and insights and offers the ability to have peer-to-peer data sharing with people within your network or social network. It is specifically around health and wellbeing and choices.

“If you’re prone to diabetes, and you want to find out what other people are doing, what their eating or some of the challenges or things they’ve done that have been successful, then the MySumo platform will open up that conduit for communication in the future, and that’s a big part of the innovation that we’re trying to develop,” he said.

“Those are the two big things we’re doing from an IT perspective.”

Baylis said the company is using a variety of technology partners that specialise in different attributes of the MySumo and Sumo Society platforms. “We have people consulting from the UK who have built, and been involved in, MyFitnessPal - people like that who’ve got deep knowledge in this space.”

Additionally, the company is using whiteboard adhesive technology from 3M that’s pushing the ‘innovation’ envelope in terms of process. The innovation is a whiteboard adhesive that can be fixed to any surface such as tables, windows, and doors. SumoSalad has utilised Post-it Dry Erase Surface (DES) to create a 'thinking wall.'

“One of the things that’s really important with innovation is not just your ability to understand insights and be creative, but one of the key drivers of innovation is to be able to communicate throughout the business, and execute,” Baylis continued.

“We’ve whiteboarded the whole office, so you can walk around and look at any project on the wall in real-time and know who’s involved, where it’s at, and what’s going on. We are taking a real innovative approach to how we communicate that to the team using this adhesive technology.”

Asked about the latest marketing trends including customer experience and personalisation, Baylis believed they are changing the way people interact with the world.

“People want to intrinsically understand themselves and what constitutes themselves, and then use that information and the technology to make better decisions that are easier and ultimately serve your lifestyle or personal preferences,” he said. “Just with that information, you’re able to make quicker, better, more lower-risk decisions. The find is almost becoming like the second brain,” he said. “A lot of stuff we are doing now is around engaging at that level and making it easier for people to use that technology to make better and easier choices.”

In terms of data analytics, SumoSalad has all of its transactional, accounting and business intelligence tools in-house, but does look to a third-party player to help the company take its transactional data and apply psychographic and customer behaviour analysis and social inputs.

“This is when you really start to see some interesting data that on the surface isn’t as obvious,” Baylis said.

 ‘Alternative structure’

With innovation high on the agenda, Baylis said SumoSalad reorganised the company structure six months ago, a move he said is a ‘non-conventional approach.’

“We changed our whole team. We were set up quite traditionally originally for a normal QSR. What we’ve done is we no longer have a chief marketing officer; we’ve now got a chief customer officer [Lawrence Mitchell], who heads marketing and the whole customer journey through from service in stores to the content they receive, to the in store products.

“We’ve changed our structure so we have the customer at the nucleus of everything that we do, and then we’ve built more capability under that area of the business to be able to make better, quicker decisions, which is enabling us to innovate at much greater speed with much greater insight and executional capability.”  

Baylis agreed the move to get rid of the CMO position is unusual, particularly at the top end of town.

“Usually in bigger companies, the CMO and chief customer officer both exist. And sometimes they both have conflicting viewpoints. But, at the end of the day, marketing is evolving where you are no longer pushing one-way messages to customers - it is all about hearing customers and responding to their needs in a much more timely and efficient fashion,” he said. “The conversation has changed - and that’s why we’ve adopted an alternative structure to best support that.”

At the same time, the company is building its marketing and IT team, hiring Ashley James as its new content creator.

“The next big thing we’re doing is hiring a head of content into the business, which we’ve never had before. We haven’t been a content creator,” Baylis said. “We’ve always shared other people’s content, or shared customer content, but we’ve got so much insight that we’ve got the ability to now create very thought-leading and industry-leading content to be able to publish some of that content.

“Having someone full time, looking at all of the data we’ve got, and being able to look at the trends and communicate that will be another step forward for us.”

Meanwhile, on the digital front, Baylis said the goal is to make it as frictionless and as intuitive as possible.  

“We want to develop an ecosystem whereby we share wellness credits through more of a cryptocurrency, so that we can exchange value between healthy like-minded companies that have similar purpose to us.”

“It is no longer the old philosophy of go it alone; it is really about how you can collaborate with the right type of people.”

SumoSalad's chief customer officer, Lawrence Mitchell, will be joining a stellar panel of marketing and brand owners to debate what it takes to innovate and drive growth in your business at our upcoming CMO Momentum conference in Sydney on 20 July. Don't miss this fabulous event on modern marketing leadership and get your ticket now!

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook:, or check us out on    


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