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Tropical Smoothie is chasing the industry titans — and it’s quickly catching up

Atlanta-based smoothie chain took an aggressive approach to growth in the pandemic, and it’s paying off.


Tropical Smoothie Cafe CEO Charles Watson admits that his brand isn’t always at the leading edge when it comes to technology innovation. It is, however, a “darn good chaser,” he said — and that was a big reason why Tropical Smoothie closed 2020 up 11.3% in sales, according to NRN’s Top 500 report, published in partnership with Datassential.

Indeed, the Atlanta-based franchise had followed the likes of Domino’s, Wingstop, and Panera Bread into the digital frontier, investing millions in ordering technologies and off-premises service. And those tools came in handy in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We weren't all the way there. We were maybe 60% of the way there,” Watson said. “But we got 100% of the way there with our franchisees signing on to not just third-party delivery, but also their involvement in the app, involvement in curbside, involvement in takeaway.”

Franchisees have been the foundation of Tropical Smoothie’s success. Of the nearly 1,000 locations, all but one are franchised. Watson said the brand’s franchise partners were resilient and caring throughout the pandemic, executing against the corporate team’s on-the-fly adjustments while also taking care of their communities and their teams.

“The franchise business is a partnership, and they absolutely knocked it out of the park,” he said.

The brand’s success with its people allowed it to set aggressive goals in 2020, which it cleared and then some. And Watson said 2021 is on track to be even more successful, with Tropical Smoothie well on its way to accomplishing its goal of 1,500 locations by 2025.

Stream the video or podcast above to learn more about how Tropical Smoothie has leveraged its innovation and its relationship with its franchisees to defy the odds in the pandemic. 

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The Top 500 report is presented by Nation’s Restaurant News and Datassential, using insights from Datassential’s proprietary Firefly platform. Datassential’s Firefly is the ultimate strategic tool — No. 1 operator database, lead generator, customer marketing and intelligence platform, all-in-one. Learn more about getting complete access at

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