Fast casual Just Salad plans to double in size over the next two years following its “largest ever capital raise,” the company announced Tuesday. The 47-unit chain completed a round with participation by circular economy-focused investment firm Closed Loop Partners, as well as returning investor Panda Restaurant Group, the parent company behind 2,200-unit Panda Express—a brand that collected $3.8 billion in U.S. systemwide sales last year.
Just Salad said it expects to use the capital to expand its geographic footprint, which today stretches across New York, New jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and Dubai, in addition to implementing new sustainability and technology initiatives.
Just Salad’s zero-waste practices have been a staple since its 2006 founding. In 2022, the company plans to grow its EPA-award-winning Reusable Bowl Program to digital orders and offer participating customers loyalty rewards via its mobile app, “further encouraging sustainable eating on the go.” The program was originally created in 2006 with the hope of diverting 100,000 pounds of disposable container waste from landfills annually.
Just Salad claims the Reusable Bowl initiative is the world’s largest and longest-running program of its kind.
In fall 2020, Just Salad also became the first U.S. chain to display carbon labels on its menu and offer a curated climatarian menu that showcases lowest-emission menu items. Panera Bread rolled a similar program last year. Additionally, the brand’s online ordering platform can calculate greenhouse gas emissions of any build-your-own salad via a partnership with NYU’s Stern School of Business MBA students.
The week Just Salad launched its “Eat for the Earth” campaign in 2020, it saw a 126 percent increase in week over week sales for “Climatarian” options.
Some other sustainability milestones in 2020:
Just Salad relaunched its smoothie menu with vegan ingredients and partnered with Daring, makers of 100 percent plant-based chicken, to offer a second plant-based meat option in addition to Beyond Beef.
The brand eliminated plastic dressing and beverage cups and launched a utensil waste reduction program on orderjustsalad.com and third-party ordering platforms.
It started a pilot test with the zero-waste online ordering platform DeliverZero.
Just Salad unveiled out a Sustainability Champion program for in-store staff and an educational Sustainability Fellow program for students.
The chain created “Housemade,” a no-subscription meal kit with 91 percent less packaging than standard options. It offers zero-prep, one-pan meals in zero-plastic packaging, grocery staples, and prepared foods from Just Salad’s menu.
In July, the chain partnered with Zero Foodprint on regenerative farming practices and added a “Zero Foodprint Salad” to the menu. Fifteen percent of sales from the item are going to the nonprofit organization.
Just Salad is the first restaurant investment for New York-based Closed Loop Partners, which focuses “on scaling the circular economy in North America and beyond.”
Notably, Closed Loop Partners has spent ample resources on sustainable food packaging, including investments in “companies who focus on alternative materials and reuse systems.”
“We are impressed with Just Salad’s innovative approach to embedding zero-waste principles across their business. They are a pioneer of reuse models at scale, creating the world’s largest restaurant reusable program and illustrating their commitment to extending the life of valuable packaging materials,” said Ron Gonen, founder and CEO of Closed Loop Partners, in a statement. “Their continued growth demonstrates the viability, feasibility and desirability of circular business models.”
Added Andrew Cherng, co-founder and co-CEO of Panda Restaurant Group. “It has been rewarding to be part of Just Salad’s journey since the start of our partnership in 2014. Their growth in urban and suburban markets is impressive and is the result of great operations and focus on people development. We are looking forward to supporting this next phase of Just Salad’s expansion and the impact they will make through their upcoming initiatives.”
Just Salad CEO and founder Nick Kenner called the whitespace in front of Just Salad “truly incredible.”
“Just Salad is on its way to becoming a larger part of the national landscape and that means unrivaled, craveable food and more sustainable eating for America in general,” he said. “The tailwinds are strong, and it's about executing at a high level while still focusing on each and every customer.”