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Auntie Anne’s steps out of the mall

The pretzel chain is opening food trucks and locations in urban areas in a bid to evolve.
Jonathan Maze

Auntie Anne’s wasn’t really meant for the mall. It just sort of happened that way after the chain was founded 30 years ago.

“When Anne [Beiler] started the company, she never intended for malls to be the primary location,” Brand President Heather Neary said in an interview Thursday. “But it’s worked for 30 years.”

But now, with mall traffic struggling and the chain largely built out in the nation’s busiest shopping centers, Anne’s is looking elsewhere.

The company recently opened a co-branded unit in New York City’s Bronx area, along with its fellow Focus Brands company Cinnabon.

The location “is exceeding our expectations,” Neary says.

It’s an early location as part of what she says is an intentional push by the brand to open more street-side locations in urban environments.

Auntie Anne’s does have some stand-alone locations, including one in New York City’s Times Square.

“We’re looking for new places to take the brand,” Neary says.

Auntie Anne’s was first opened in 1988 in a Pennsylvania farmers market and ultimately began opening in malls and other nontraditional locations. Those malls have been good for the chain, which relies on the built-in traffic of people looking for a snack.

The chain finished 2017 with more than 1,300 locations, up 1.1% from the year before, according to Technomic Top 500 data.

Neary says that the company has locations in about half of the nation’s malls. “There’s about 1,200 malls,” she says. “We’re in 650 of them, give or take. We’ve always gone after the better malls.

“But it’s time to look at what’s next for the brand.”

In addition to the street-side locations, the chain is opening food trucks. It has about 12 of those and is looking to add another dozen.

Anne’s is also looking at tourist locations, such as Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Branson, Mo.

The key for any location is the foot traffic that the chain found so well in malls over the years. But the challenge for some of these locations, especially those in urban areas, is rent. High-traffic real estate usually comes along with high rent.

“That’s absolutely part of the consideration set,” she says.

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