Sweetgreen said there’s plenty of evidence to support the direction. When it gets customers into digital channels, historically, they come in at least 1.5 times more often. And they spend 20 percent more. Once they evolve into a “two-channel customer,” they show up 2.5 times more.
This is all evolving as Sweetgreen’s development phases up as well. The concept, created 15 years ago by three college friends, ended 2021 with 150 locations. Neman noted in March it’s on track to double in the next three to five years and reach 1,000 restaurants by decade’s close.
Sweetgreen expects to open at least 35 venues this year, including in two to three new markets. Thirty-one stores debuted last year. And the urban versus suburban split (13 compared to 18 in 2021) could play a role in “sweetlane’s” potential. Just take a look at what’s happening with Starbucks coming out of COVID in regards to access points. Or why Shake Shack is targeting 10 drive-thrus by year’s end.
Chipotle, as a comparison again, said in February it was targeting growth in towns of 40,000-plus people or so given recent openings. These “small-town” locations delivered unit economics “at or better” than traditional builds, CEO Brian Niccol told investors. But equally important, they lend themselves to the order-ahead pickup window “Chipotlanes,” which continue to outperform units without them. They generate higher volume (stores open with about 15 percent higher sales) and skew higher digital business, also about 10–15 percent better, or closer to 55 percent of mix. With an incremental investment cost of $75,000–$85,000, it’s “by far, a superior return,” CFO Jack Hartung said in Q3. Chipotlanes generate cash-on-cash returns in the 65–70 percent range within a couple of years. And, notably, the model favors margin-friendly carryout versus delivery.
All told, it’s why Chipotle expects to bring 235–250 restaurants to market in 2022, and more than 80 percent of those will be equipped with a Chipotlane. Last year, 81 percent (174) of 215 openings had one.
Sweetgreen’s total revenue in 2021 was $340 million—a record high for the company, and a 54 percent jump, year-over-year. Average-unit volumes climbed from $2.2 to $2.6 million.