Recently, a TikTok on Auntie Anne’s page went viral.
“Things you all have to come to terms with,” the video says. “We will always be in the malls, but we’re opening drive-thrus.”
That last part was in all caps. The video has 5.4 million views.
The viral TikTok came out in June, but the pretzel brand actually opened its first drive-thru store in 2021 in Wylie, Texas. The unit was Auntie Anne’s first foray into stores outside of the malls, universities, and transit centers the chain usually occupies. Currently, there are three drive-thru stores, including the one in Wylie, another in El Paso, Texas, and one in Nampa, Idaho.
“I think when we announced the news on Wylie, we got a great response to that,” chief brand officer Alisa Gmelich says. “But now, as a follow up a year later, to see this TikTok go viral … this is more than just a blip.”
The stores are dual-branded with Focus Brands sister concept Jamba. This partnership was especially complementary, Gmelich says, because Auntie Anne’s caters to dayparts from noon on, while Jamba specializes more in the morning crowd.
The brand has also noticed many consumers come to the dual-branded, drive-thru locations with the intention to buy one product, and end up leaving with items from both.
Gmelich says she thinks consumers are steering away from the traditional model of three meals a day, and that’s where snack brands like Auntie Anne’s come in.
“We like to think of ourselves as a snack leader,” she says. “There's lots of places to go for beverage innovation; there's a lot of places to go for meals. But when we think about snacks, this is where we believe that these drive-thrus create a new destination for people to come to.”
In the pretzel brand’s traditional locations in other venues, purchases are usually impulse-driven, Gmelich says. Though this remains an essential part of the business, Auntie Anne’s is moving toward establishing itself as a destination brand through this new drive-thru expansion.
“There's plenty of guests out there that don't frequent malls as often,” she says. ”So for those folks, this is a great opportunity to make the brand that they love to be more accessible for them.”
Convenience is also a big piece. Though customers can walk into these brick-and-mortar locations, the ease of the drive-thru is a big draw, Gmelich says.
“When we thought about the user experience and what people are looking for when they want a snack, when they want a snack on the go, it became very clear to us that a drive-thru was definitely going to have to be a part of this,” she explains.
Auntie Anne’s is opening an additional 12 drive-thru, brick-and-mortar locations over the next year, bringing the total number of this model to 15. They will be opening the dual-branded stores in Texas, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Georgia, and Michigan. They have over 1,200 “on-the-go” locations in places like malls and airports.