Sweetberry Bowls is a decidedly youthful brand.

The 19-unit healthy fast casual sports a hashtagged mission statement (#madewithgoodvibes) and colorful stores with hot-pink design elements and plenty of live greenery. The menu is centered on customer control, with a set of fully customizable bowls at the forefront; when visiting a Sweetberry, customers choose an açai, pitaya, green, or coconut base, add a unique blend of granola and fresh fruit, and finish with a drizzle of their choice, such as honey or Nutella.

Sweetberry founder and CEO Desi Saran knows his audience. “Our traction product is our açai bowl. That’s probably 50 percent of our sales,” he says. “Our demographic is millennials and younger—anyone from 13–30 years old—and we see a lot of high school and college kids. Our bowls can be fully customized, because this demographic is all about building their own items.”

But Sweetberry’s on-trend trappings don’t mean that Saran—himself a millennial who started the chain in 2017 at 31—is boxing the New Jersey–based brand into one set of menu items or customers. In Sweetberry’s short history, the menu has already expanded from its original bowls and smoothies to include customizable salads, hot panini wraps, and seasonal soups—items that are familiar and accessible to older, more traditional diners.

Founder: Desi Saran
Year Started: 2017
Total Units: 19
Franchised Units: 5
Website: sweetberrybowls.com

For Saran, the goal was to grow a full-fledged clean eatery rather than a millennial-friendly açai bowl chain. “I knew right off the bat that we wanted to be more than just another açai bowl concept and that we wanted to offer all different types of healthy food and cater to all demographics. In only a couple of years, we’ve covered a lot of ground with our menu and given it a huge variety,” he says.

The fast casual has covered ground in areas other than menu, too. Saran started the brand with one store in Florida, backed by a network of family and friends who wanted to invest. Since that first unit, Sweetberry has grown aggressively, with 14 company-owned and five franchisee-run stores along the East Coast to date.

The goal is to expand throughout the U.S. and, eventually, internationally. In the interest of building a bigger Sweetberry team, Saran is planning on expanding without more company stores, looking instead to build out a network of franchised units.

Since debuting its franchising model in September 2018, Sweetberry has received more than 1,300 inquiries from potential franchisees all over the country. Saran says that, while the team plans on aggressive growth, their process of selecting franchising partners is a careful one, with an emphasis on expanding strategically.

The company markets its franchising opportunity via an in-house team spearheaded by vice president of marketing Anthony Spagnola. Both Spagnola and Saran run units themselves.

“Typically, the sales guy for a franchise has never operated a restaurant for the brand he’s selling, but Anthony and I handle incoming potential franchisees and we both have hands-on experience with running a store,” Saran says. “We are looking for people who really buy into our identity. It’s still early on for us, and we’re still a start-up, so we want partners who understand that we’re not yet a mature brand and who want to work hard.”

He says he is also looking for partners who understand the concept’s mission and menu. Customers often need some education about Sweetberry, and team members have to be in place to help guests understand the taste and benefits of unfamiliar ingredients, such as a pitaya fruit bowl base. “Our franchisees need to be really good with customers. We are looking for people who understand our mission and our product well enough to successfully represent us,” Saran says.

If a franchisee is knowledgeable about the product, the rest of a unit’s operations are fairly simple. The model is replicable and cost-efficient; stores range from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet in size, and the mostly cold menu slashes prep times.

The company was built to withstand the industry’s rising labor and ingredient costs, too. Sweetberry kitchens are typically operated by one or two employees max, and in-house supply chain management was put into place to build sturdy relationships with suppliers, allowing negotiation.

In addition to bulking up its roster of locations, the concept is also expanding on the digital front. Customers can now have Sweetberry delivered through Grubhub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash. Loyal visitors are incentivized with a $5-off coupon to download the brand’s new app—a platform that gives customers points for every purchase, offers access to special promotions, and allows in-app payment via Sweetberry Wallet.

Saran isn’t planning on expanding the menu anytime soon (aside from rolling out a poke bowl), readying the concept for the upcoming rapid expansion. With a sturdy foundation of company and franchise units, a developed menu, and scalable business model under its belt, Sweetberry is ready to reach even more customers of all ages and in all markets.

“When I started Sweetberry, I wanted to create a healthy fast-casual chain on a national level and bring really delicious, healthy food everywhere, to everyone,” Saran says. “So far it’s worked, and we’ve gotten so much interest.”

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Story, Sweetberry