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Zucchini apparently helps jog memories.
At least that seems to be the case at Noodles & Company, which saw the introduction of zucchini noodles, or “zoodles,” to its menu systemwide last May make a measurable impact on its guests — especially those who are carbohydrate-averse — as well as traffic and sales.
Dave Boennighausen, CEO of Broomfield, Colo.-based Noodles & Company, credited its recent streak of strong same-store sales on the continued popularity of the zucchini noodles. He presented an update on his company at the recent ICR investment conference in Orlando, Fla.
“What zucchini did — which is particularly exciting — is it unlocked a significant part of the population that really just hadn’t thought about us in a while,” he said.
That reconnection helped Noodles post a 2.3-percent traffic increase in the third quarter ended Oct. 2, after advancing 5.4 percent in the second quarter, he said.
Boennighausen said the low-carb zucchini noodles have sparked new interest among its highly indexed Millennial and Gen Z customers as well as women and families.
The health halo of the zoodles has also been popular for earned media mentions, especially with the health bloggers. And the introduction of the new platform came without any discounting, which helped average check, he said.
The next step for the 460-unit chain, which owns about 85 percent of its restaurants, is to expand on the culinary innovation around zucchini noodles, Boennighausen said. He hinted that
other vegetables might be getting the noodle treatment as well as new flavors.
“We are the only national restaurant chain really focused on noodles and pasta with flavors from throughout the world,” he noted.
The side benefit of a menu focused on noodles, both traditional and zoodle, is that it fits snugly into the growing off-premise sales trends. The company now has delivery in 80 percent of its stores, and it is looking at expanding its catering offerings.
“Our food travels extremely well,” Boennighausen said. “It retains heat significantly longer than most fast-casual forums. Our price point and our speed meet the guests’ needs. And we also have particular strength with families. … We actually do a larger to-go business at dinner than we do at lunch.”
Paul Murphy, executive chairman since July 2017, shared the stage with Boennighausen and said the company has a “thoughtful approach” to unit growth, expecting expansion to be infill markets rather than new ones at a 5 percent growth rate. The chain is also looking to have pickup windows in new units to accommodate the growing number of off-premise users.
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless