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Can anti-carb Zoodles save Noodles & Co.?

The struggling Denver-based chain remains in transformation mode, the CEO says

In its continued attempt to dig itself out of a financial hole, Noodles & Co. said is turning to anti-carb zucchini noodles and off-premise sales to entice diners.

The Denver-based fast-casual company, which closed 55 restaurants last year, reported a systemwide same-store sales drop of .9 percent for the 4th quarter ended Jan. 2. The company reported a quarterly loss of nearly $500,000, compared to net loss of $45.4 million for the same period, prior year. Last year’s significant losses were primarily due to expenditures tied to restaurant closures and anticipated claims from a 2016 data breach.

CEO Dave Boennighausen told investors during a Wednesday conference call that the company remains in a “transformation” mode.

On the menu and marketing side, the pasta-focused chain plans to combat carbophobia by introducing vegetable noodles called Zoodles. After encouraging tests of zucchini noodles, Noodles plans to add “Zoodles” to the menu nationwide in May, Boennighausen said. 

One of the new entrees will be a zucchini romesco dish. Diners also will be able to substitute Zoodles on any pasta dish.

“Zucchini noodles have the opportunity to increase frequency, bring lapsed users back to the brand, and introduce the brand to new guests who may have avoided us in the past due to dietary preferences,” he said.

Diners can also expect a minor refresh of store welcome walls and menu panels. The décor changes are in response to market research indicating “that the brand had become too serious,” the CEO said.

The new color scheme and merchandising “will allow the brand to become more approachable and endearing to our guests.”

In terms of sales, the company said it plans to build on its success of off-premise sales. Year to date, online sales have increased 13 percent.

To streamline those orders, Noodles recently completed the installation of “quick pick up shelving” so customers don’t have to wait in line to fetch to-go orders. It also reduces wait-times for dine-in guests ordering at the counter, Boennighausen said.

Noodles plans to expand delivery — currently available at 15 percent of the chain’s 476 restaurants.

“We anticipate that soon delivery may be available at nearly half of our system,” Boennighausen told investors during a Thursday conference call.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven

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