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Two smaller Chicago-based quick serves have similarly found that community initiatives can help promote a brand as health-conscious.
Roti Mediterranean Grill, a fast casual with locations in Chicago and Washington, D.C., lets customers choose among a range of healthier ingredients to construct their own Mediterranean dishes. But Peter Nolan, Roti’s director of marketing, says simply serving healthy dishes and including menu transparency in the store does not make a company health conscious. That’s why the company has partnered with Common Threads, a program that teaches low-income, inner-city kids—as well as their families—how to shop for and cook healthy foods.
“We really like the idea at Roti of getting beyond our customer base. If you want to do something good, a lot of times you’ve got to go beyond where you currently are,” Nolan says. “These folks are working in the inner city, and we don’t have restaurants in the inner city—we won’t for a while—but that’s still part of our community.”
To help support Common Threads, Roti has hosted cooking education events and raised money through various in-store promotions. The fast casual is even considering using Common Threads to help develop new kids’ menu items.
“As a brand, it helps us fulfill our mission, first of all, to help create a healthier world. And it puts our money where our mouth is a little bit,” Nolan says. “But I don’t really think we’re into it just because it’s a marketing ploy or something. It’s inner city kids in Chicago—it’s not our target market. … Even if a small percentage of [our customer base] get involved, then the ultimate impact of what we’re doing with Common Threads, helping kids be healthier—it’s exponential what we can do.”
Hannah’s Bretzel is another Windy City fast casual with deep ties to community initiatives that educate kids on the importance of healthy living.
The four-unit sandwich concept invests in several strategies that make it a “responsible business,” founder Florian Pfahler says, including making improvements with its employees, vendors, suppliers, and the environment. But it’s the company’s partnership with the Academy for Global Citizenship on the South Side of Chicago that Pfahler says is its “most heartfelt” initiative.
The brand donates time and resources to the academy, which teaches a responsible, global lifestyle to kids. The school grows its own organic food on its grounds and teaches kids how to raise and eat healthier foods. Hannah’s also donates money; during a recent promotion, the stores donated 25 percent of proceeds— Pfahler hoped about $10,000—to the academy.
“Health is not only limited to the food intake, but it’s also how we interact with the community and what kinds of resources we apply to the business and how we use resources to go about our business,” he says.
Like Nolan, Pfahler says efforts like these that benefit the community and teach health and wellness are the right thing to do. But he says there are tangible benefits for brands like Hannah’s Bretzel, Roti Mediterranean Grill, and Jamba Juice that invest in these programs.
“I think that loyalty to a brand is not only based on, ‘Is the food good and does it cost X amount of money?’” he says. “I think it goes deeper with human beings. It goes into likes and dislikes. And I think the more brand benefits you display with transparency and authenticity, the deeper the loyalty to the brand will grow over the years.”
Warren Ellish, president and CEO of Ellish Marketing Group, says brand associations built on health and wellness can be profitable so long as they are authentic and true to the overall brand message.
“If these things that you’re tying into support those points of difference that are important to the customers that you have, then those types of initiatives are going to resonate very, very strongly in the communities and the trade areas where your restaurants are,” Ellish says. “But if all of a sudden it’s something that’s totally disconnected and people just see that you’re trying to do it to score a point or tie in with the latest fad or whatever it might be, I’m not sure you’re going to get any long-term benefit out of it.”
Ellish also believes inhabiting a healthy brand message can be difficult for established brands, especially those that don’t specialize in more nutritious menu offerings. He says newer brands like Hannah’s and Roti, which are built around the ideas of health and wellness, have an easier job selling consumers on their initiatives.
Fred LeFranc, president of restaurant and hospitality consultancy Results Thru Strategy and board member for foodservice nutrition consultant Healthy Dining Finder, says companies shouldn’t make health and wellness their primary brand message unless it’s the core of the business.
“What we’ve seen while talking with clients of Healthy Dining is that no one really makes a giant campaign about health in and of itself,” he says. “They still have to wrestle with the fact that people are looking for value—sometimes it’s a price, other people are looking for flavor, and there’s the classic line that fat equals flavor. So there’s just a balance that you’re trying to achieve.”
For Jamba Juice, at least, it seems the balance is to go all in with nutrition and healthy marketing. That’s why you can expect to see the brand continue its health and wellness initiatives, which White says will include more focus on moms and families, as well as on youth sports.
“Our commitment to the communities where we do business is a part of the DNA of the company, it’s a part of our history and heritage at Jamba,” White says. “We actually think you can make money while you do good for both your employees and the community that you do business in.”