The tradition of stopping by an Auntie Anne’s stand in a mall or airport has created a base of dedicated customers for the company. But what about customers who don’t frequent retail spaces that are traditionally home to Auntie Anne’s? Over the past few years, the brand has explored ways to step outside the box when it comes to getting its pretzels into the hands of more people.

These out-of-the-box ideas have translated into opening food trucks, stand-alone spaces, street side locations and exploring catering and delivery options. Auntie Anne’s has welcomed these new ideas that break the mold. Currently Auntie Anne’s operates two dozen food trucks, but over the next year it hopes to double that number.

“From our perspective, the white space is pretty, pretty vast,” president of Auntie Anne’s Heather Neary says. “Food trucks are just one of many different places that we’re looking at to take pretzels to the people. We also are doing a lot of catering out of our traditional brick and mortar locations that’s allowing us to provide pretzels to our loyal guests in places they didn’t normally have them.”

Unlike traditional store spaces, food trucks offer franchisees mobility and flexibility they normally wouldn’t be afforded in those spaces. Neary says food trucks are already popular in the general consumer market so why not use food trucks in the pretzel business.

“Our food trucks allow us to bake fresh pretzels on site at events and they’re a very popular way for consumers to engage with the brand and for franchisees to grow their business,” Neary says. “It’s a great opportunity for a first-time single unit franchisee and it also allows us to give our current franchisees a chance to expand their portfolio.”

Fans of Auntie Anne’s can find food trucks in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Nashville, Houston, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Philadelphia. Neary sees the opportunity to grow in those markets along with other established markets across the country.

When franchisees look at the food truck business model, it’s different from traditional spaces and can be more attractive for first time franchisees. Start-up costs are lower than traditional spaces and a food truck allows new franchisees to set their own work hours and park in places where they think they will get traffic. Food truck franchisees have the opportunity to bring their trucks to food truck fairs, weddings, and sporting events.

“There’s a lot less investment up front in a food truck versus building out a traditional brick and mortar space,” Neary says. “Then when you’re going to a food truck event you’re able to only open when you’re actually really busy.  So, it’s a great business model for franchisees to be able to show up for a fair on a Friday night or Saturday and be able to focus on being open when the customers are there to serve at a festival or football game, a wedding reception.”

“We do a lot of wedding receptions and they are a lot of fun. It also helps us to manage our labor as well so our expenses aren’t through the roof and we’re able to really put together a compelling business model for the franchisees,” she adds.

The food truck model offers the full Auntie Anne’s menu and as the traditional model operates in smaller spaces the overall operations are similar in both spaces. The space is tight, however, as long as the operation remains efficient while producing pretzels, the food truck space works well for franchisees.

“It’s a very small space, but many of our stores and our traditional menus are also very small spaces and were able to operate very efficiently,” Neary says. “In fact, the less room you have to move the less waste you have in terms of movement to a new parking place.”

While the food truck menu offers the core menu that can be found at other Auntie Anne’s locations, there is a possibility for menu experimentation in these non-traditional spaces. Food truck exclusive menu items are currently in development, but Neary says the main focus right now is consistently producing fresh, golden brown pretzels with great customer service across all food trucks.

The company is very focused on expanding the food truck part of the company, but it isn’t the only part of its out-of-the-box growth strategy. Stand-alone locations are popping up around the country with a new location recently opening in Bronx, New York. Stand-alone Auntie Anne’s stores can be found at 16 different universities, which is also a space where the company sees potential growth.

“We’ve been in the university space for quite a while,” Neary says. “A lot of times it’s a great convenience snack and it’s part of the food program at many of the universities. It’s a chance for guests at schools and students at school that know our pretzels from childhood to grow up with pretzels in college as well.”

Auntie Anne’s has been celebrating its 30th birthday throughout 2018. The company is continuing to explore these out-of-the-box growth opportunities, which it hopes to continue to develop and capitalize on over the next 30 years.

“We believe strongly in taking pretzels to the people,” Neary says. “We know guests love our pretzels. There’s a strong emotional connection there for our guests to our pretzels, so we are looking at lots of different places where people gather where they could enjoy a pretzel. For us it’s important to take our pretzels beyond our four walls and reach our guests wherever and whenever they want our pretzels.”

Delivery and catering are another part of this growth strategy. Food trucks contribute to the increased popularity of Auntie Anne’s at weddings and other occasions, but catering and delivery can also bring pretzels to these special events. Neary says there are more snacking opportunities in many different places with the growing popularity of these channels.

“So, say for an afternoon business meeting, instead of having teas and coffee we can serve amazing pretzels with our great cheese dip,” Neary says. “There’s lots of different venues for us to take pretzels to the people with third party delivery like GrubHub and Door Dash. We partner with a lot of those organizations to continue the accessibility of the brand in new and unexpected locations.”

Neary adds, “Auntie Anne’s has been around since 1988 and as we prepare for the next 30 years we continue to evolve and look outside of the box for ways to grow the brand. Catering is one of them. Food trucks is one of them. We also just launched a very popular LTO product, our Birthday Cake Pretzel Nuggets, that are selling like hot cakes or pretzels as the case may be and our guests are really loving that.”

Emerging Concepts, Web Exclusives, Auntie Anne's