- Wetzel’s Pretzels promoted brand president and former CMO Jennifer Schuler to CEO on January 1, as co-founder Bill Phelps stepped down after a 25-year run. Phelps will continue as a brand ambassador, board member and investor, Wetzel’s told Nation’s Restaurant News.
- Schuler told NRN she plans to add up to 30 new stores this year in airports, stadiums and what she calls “A” location malls. Redesigned and new stores may resemble the company’s makeover in Disneyland, Schuler said, which features a bolder, more whimsical design.
- As CEO, Schuler wants to continue menu innovation that leans on snacking and fresh food trends while pursuing opportunities in mobile ordering, delivery and ghost kitchens.
Joining another recently anointed leader, CFO Kimberly Smith, Schuler will likely continue to build on the company’s successful franchise system, of which she herself is a part: she owns two stores in the Mall of America, per Nation’s Restaurant News.
Phelps leaves behind big shoes to fill, however. Not only did he expand the brand outside of California and into other countries, but he also has been an outspoken leader in the business community, particularly in the minimum wage debate. On a CNBC panel in 2016, Phelps said Wetzel’s, as an impulse-buy brand, had experienced 9% year-over-year growth since 2006 with sales increasing under a $10-and-rising minimum wage in California.
Schuler discussed the brand's impulse-buy status in a 2017 interview with Nation’s Restaurant News. As CMO, she led the charge to open stands on the Santa Monica Pier and inside Walmart stores. “We tend to live in a category that’s in a way recession proof. People still like to treat themselves to a pretzel,” she said. Comparable sales grew 2.5% in 2018, with annual sales topping $160 million, according to Franchise Times.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the West Coast pretzel darling has similar goals to Auntie Anne’s, headquartered in eastern Pennsylvania and also owned by a private equity firm. The latter’s parent company Focus Brands could go public this year alongside fellow brands Cinnabon, Jamba Juice and Moe’s Southwest Grill. Both pretzel companies have realized the same reality of modern retail — that malls, once a mainstay for their brands, are changing. But the companies have apparently reached different conclusions on what that means for their futures.
Auntie Anne’s has put food trucks on the street in multiple cities and doubled down on catering. Wetzel,’s meanwhile, has focused on premium shopping malls, as Nation’s Restaurant News reported. Schuler deems the chatter of malls’ demise “oversimplification” and sees promise in multi-concept shopping centers that rely on foot traffic from adjoining entertainment and restaurant venues.