In the spring, Wetzel’s Pretzels opened a new concept called Twisted by Wetzel’s that is quite different from anything the company has done in its nearly-30-year history. The company describes Twisted as a “street concept that takes Wetzel’s fun-loving brand and timeless menu and elevates it to a whole new level.”
There are now two locations open and a third is under construction. No growth targets have been definitively set, but CMO Kim Freer is bullish on Twisted’s potential. That’s because it meets consumers’ increasing demands for innovative, snack-type food that is also visually appealing. The coveted and highly digital Gen Z consumer is the target for the concept.
“We live in a generation where the camera eats first, and we wanted to create menu items that are fun to take pictures of and fun to eat, and create experiential moments,” Freer said. “We have seen the demand for pretzels grow and we’re trying to find a way to meet that demand. We thought, ‘How do we take what’s core to the brand and what the brand is known for and create a next-level destination?’”
That destination, by the way, is also a bit different from a traditional Wetzel’s core mall or airport setting. The company is targeting 1,200-square-foot locations with strong street visibility and the potential for outdoor seating. It is best suited for heavy foot traffic areas, like shopping centers or near a university. Inside, Twisted is bright, splashed with multiple colors and most noticeably yellow, featuring an open kitchen.
“Every moment is meant to be shared. The concept is bright, energetic, colorful, fun. We played off of that idea of ‘twist,’ so as you actually move through the space, the colors and experiences change with you,” Freer said.
Twisted, Freer said, opens up more real estate opportunities for Wetzel’s existing franchisees, who are the initial priority for growth.
“This brand can scale down as part of a Macy’s or in an airport, and now we’re scaling up and it’s interesting as it unlocks a huge white space of opportunities and new guests we haven’t seen before because we’ve been focused on impulse opportunities,” Freer said. “I’m excited about that. We get to go out on the street and redefine and reimagine how people eat pretzels.”
Indeed, the Twisted menu is nothing like a traditional Wetzel’s menu. Sure, the classics are available like Bitz and Bites, but the company also wanted to experiment with products that could create more of “360-degree experience,” as Freer described. That means offerings like the Pizza Bomb (braided pretzel dough stuffed with marinara, pepperoni and mozzarella and positioned in a new Twistz category); Twisted Signature Dogz; and Topped Pretz, topped with ingredients such as Nashville spice or vanilla glaze and Oreo crumbles. There are also Loaded Bitz, topped with things like bacon bits, ranch and cheese sauce, or Baja sauce, roasted corn, jalapeno salsa and chipotle powder. And then there are the drinks, such as the Orange Creamsicle, horchata and strawberry coco dream.
And, of course, a meal wouldn’t be complete without a sweet ending, for which Twisted offers its Pretzel Chimney Cakes, or vanilla soft serve creations in a pretzel cone. Options include caramel chocolate crunch and rainbow crunch.
“We created this category called Twistz, which is this ooey, gooey, meal-worthy calzone experience. And then looking at our sweets, taking a pretzel cone and rolling it in sugar crystals and filling it with soft serve,” Freer said. “We’ve always been an innovator in the snack category, but we’re showing our leadership in that category and taking it up a notch.”
She said some of these menu innovations, should they sell well, could be translated into traditional Wetzel’s units as limited time offers if they fit the operating model, which Freer describes as “very simple.”
In other words, the potential for this brand exists not only on its own but also to support the core Wetzel’s business, which is also growing. According to Datassential, Wetzel’s unit count increased by over 5% from 2021 to 2022, while its sales grew by over 17% to $235 million. That said, the potential for Twisted is reflected in the enthusiasm shown for the first two locations, which have exceeded expectations so far, Freer said.
“We’re thinking through the same lenses with Twisted, making sure anything we do delivers on the promise of having simple operations and consumer appeal. We’re just turning the dial up a bit,” she said. “We’re taking the strength of our core brand — the product and equity that people love — and unleashing our creativity. I’m excited because we’re disrupting the whole category while staying true to who we are.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]
Hear from Kim Freer and other CREATORS honorees at CREATE: The Experience, Oct. 1-3 in Palm Springs, in a panel sponsored by Keurig Dr Pepper.