Auntie Anne’s has long been an impulse buy for customers who smell its pretzels baking and can’t resist. But now, the chain is investing in drive-thrus to become a true food destination.
Customers have wanted Auntie Anne’s to become more convenient and accessible beyond malls, travel centers and entertainment venues, Auntie Anne’s Chief Development Officer Alisa Gmelich said.
“We just think that we’ve got such a huge opportunity to take a big piece of the market and really be a snack leader,” Gmelich said. “That’s what really led us to thinking about drive-thrus.”
Snacking habits are changing, sparking new opportunities for the brand. In the past, the snacking occasion typically spanned 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., but now occurs any time of the day, Gmelich said.
Auntie Anne’s opened its first co-branded drive-thru location with Jamba last year in Wylie, Texas. Since then, it’s opened two more units in El Paso, Texas, and in Nampa, Idaho, which is just outside of Boise. The chain plans to have 15 total drive-thrus open by spring of 2023.
Initially, Auntie Anne’s considered partnerships with brands within the Focus portfolio for co-branded drive-thrus, but partnered with Jamba because it is also a snacking brand that uses fresh ingredients, Gmelich said. Jamba’s inclusion also created a more complete day’s worth of food offered at these units. Jamba usually focuses on the morning and afternoon dayparts while most of Auntie Anne’s traffic comes during the afternoon through the late evening.
Auntie Anne’s products have translated well to the drive-thru channel because they were always meant to be portable, allowing for customers in malls to eat them on the go, Gmelich said.
Customers often come to Auntie Anne’s/Jamba locations with the intent of getting one brand, but end up ordering off both menus. The dual-branded drive-thrus have benefited from walk-in customers who aren’t aware there is a drive-thru, but then come back a week or two later and use the channel, she said.
Originally, Auntie Anne’s predicted Jamba would have a higher sales mix at the co-branded restaurants. But sales have been split 50/50 at its Wylie location, Gmelich said. Currently, about two-thirds of the pretzel chain’s business at the Wylie location comes through the drive-thru.
Finding ideal locations
For site selection, Auntie Anne’s is looking for locations in areas with a growing population, Gmelich said, adding that this could include retail centers that are benefiting from burgeoning housing and schools within the community.
The company has also been pursuing end cap locations where a drive-thru can wrap around a strip center, which is how its drive-thru in Wylie was built, she said. Auntie Anne’s also needs some parking to accommodate third-party delivery drivers picking up orders, since these off-premise orders are also part of the growth of its drive-thru locations, Gmelich said.
Auntie Anne’s is seeking franchisees interested in opening three to four co-branded drive-thru locations, Gmelich said. Some of these franchisees might already have Auntie Anne’s mall locations within a given market, and want to expand that portfolio.
Many of Auntie Anne’s existing franchisees are excited about this drive-thru opportunity, but the company has also seen interest from Jamba and Cinnabon franchisees.
“When we opened [in] Wylie, Texas, the consumer response across the board was tremendous,” Gmelich said.
In June, the company released a TikTok video advertising its drive-thru that generated 5 million views, Gmelich said, suggesting further untapped demand and a long development runway.
“We believe that [co-branded drive-thrus] could represent a much larger percentage of our portfolio between the growth on drive-thrus and our growth on off-premise,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the timing of the drive-thru unit expansion plans. The chain will open 12 new drive-thrus through spring of 2023, bringing its total drive-thru count to 15.