With its snack-based menu growing in popularity, the 350-unit Wetzel’s has sought to widen its accessibility. The chain expects to open 30 stores by years-end, although Schuler says that figure could've been as large as 50 if it weren't for delays caused by supply chain, construction, and labor.
Food trucks—which the brand only dabbled in pre-COVID—have risen in demand among franchisees. The chain oversees roughly 12 food trucks between those already on the road and ones scheduled to hit the pavement this year.
The other major growth lever has been convenience stores. Wetzel’s recently announced a new opportunity in which c-store operators can open the pretzel brand inside Phillips 66, Conoco, and 76 branded locations. Schuler describes newer c-stores as a “different breed” where the food offerings are higher-end, varied, and fresh. She adds that consumers are now using these locations for quick, convenient meals, which perfectly fits with Wetzel’s target demographic.
The first franchisees under the new store-within-a-store concept were Southern California operators Ron Reger and Alfred Daher, who have decades of experience operating gas stations and c-stores. The duo opened three Wetzel’s within 10 months, and two more are on the way.
“Like your family on the go that's getting gas before you're off to the soccer tournament,” Schuler says. “Wouldn't it be great if you could get your kids some dog bites—the perfect quick snack as you head in between soccer drop off and dance class or whatever it is that's going on for your family. It’s the right intersection between what the consumer needs and wants and how they're already using our brand. And then what Phillips 66 is doing in terms of really upgrading their food offerings because they see how the consumers are using their c-stores, as well. It’s a really good fit.”
In addition to shrinking its core model to fit inside food trucks, c-stores, travel centers, and Walmart locations, Wetzel’s is working on a bigger version of itself with an expanded menu.
“You look at Chipotle, it started with a burrito and now it's a whole lunch, snack, meal, destination centered on burrito,” Schulzer explains. “But you can get tacos, quesadillas, or whatever, but the centerpiece is burrito. Chick-fil-A, the centerpiece was the breaded chicken, and now it's expanded out to you can have it on salads, you can have that on sandwiches, you can have on biscuits."
“We really spent time in our own twisted kitchen, which is what we refer to as our culinary innovation lab, thinking about, OK, what if pretzel is the centerpiece?”