While Auntie Anne’s pretzels and lemonade have previously been known as satisfying food-court snacks, parent company Focus Brands has worked hard on bringing its mall brands to new audiences and occasions.
In 2021, Auntie Anne’s doubled down on its digital presence and opened its first-ever drive-thru location in collaboration with sister brand Jamba. The transformation work paid off as Auntie Anne’s sales rank jumped from 105 to 76, growing 64.6% over the past year, according to the 2021 NRN Top 500 powered by Datassential.
“The No. 1 thing guests said they wanted is more Auntie Anne’s accessibility,” said Alisa Gmelich, Auntie Anne’s chief brand officer. “The average guest goes only one to three times a year, but they want to engage with our brand more frequently. So that made us realize that we can do much more than our growth in malls, amusement parks, entertainment venues and airports. … We started thinking about moving to street-side so guests can enjoy us more often.”
Last year, Auntie Anne’s made the decision to move its headquarters from Lancaster, Pa. to Atlanta to join the rest of Focus Brands and collaborate a lot more with its parent company. The most prominent partnership, of course, was the first cobranded drive-thru location that opened with Jamba in Texas. The new location provided twofold growth opportunities for Auntie Anne’s: a new point of accessibility for guests and the rise of occasion-based visits for customers who want to make a meal out of a smoothie and a pretzel.
“The real benefit of [moving our headquarters] is working with the entire enterprise Focus team,” Gmelich said. “So many of the things that we are doing today would not be possible if we were … not able to leverage all the different amazing digital components and connectivity under the Focus umbrella.”
Beyond broadening the company’s horizons through new omnichannel capabilities, Auntie Anne’s also doubled down on its digital presence in 2021. Although the company already had an app and loyalty program, last year Auntie Anne’s began honing its online voice and grew its loyalty members to just under two million users. Gmelich said that throughout the pandemic, her team learned a lot about molding off-premises needs around digital convenience, like ordering ahead so customers did not have to wait in a long line to pick up their pretzels. Auntie Anne’s is working on a separate area for mobile pickup customers to ease customer friction even further.
“One of the areas that we've been investing a lot of our resources on is how to fine-tune that great experience so that when you do show up at Auntie Anne's, it is very clear where to pick up your pretzel,” Gmelich said.
For many companies, third-party delivery partnerships became one of the most important steps on the way to “winning” digital engagement, and this was no different for Auntie Anne’s. Gmelich said the company began using its partnerships with the three major third-party delivery platforms to push the boundaries of menu innovation, like creating the new bucket of pretzels menu item marketed during sporting events.
“When people are watching a game at home, they usually order pizza or wings, and now a bucket of pretzels is right at the top of the list as they think about feeding all the fans in their household,” Gmelich said.
Over the past year, each of these components — new store prototypes, partnerships with other Focus concepts, digital engagement and menu innovation — has shifted Auntie Anne’s to be a more top-of-mind brand for customers rather than just a happenstance purchase for shoppers and people waiting for their train or plane.
“Auntie Anne’s has always been an incredibly powerful impulse buy,” Gmelich said. “We like to think of ourselves as leaders in the snack space, and there are not a whole lot of destination brands in that category.”
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]
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