Here’s the thing about malls: They typically don’t allow drive-thrus.
That was not a problem for Auntie Anne’s when malls were loaded with shoppers. It’s been more of an issue in recent years when those shoppers stayed home and was downright awful last year when drive-thrus were just about the only game in town.
Now the pretzel chain is doing something about it. The company has opened its first ever drive-thru location, in a restaurant cobranded with sister chain Jamba.
The location, in Wylie, Tex., is owned by franchisees Shawn and Crystal Bowling and, according to a release, “is a significant step in the brand’s commitment to move to real estate beyond the traditional mall location and is a direct response to consumer desire for greater brand accessibility.”
“Consumer research shows that our guests want access to Auntie Anne’s outside of the mall,” Brian Krause, chief development officer for Atlanta-based Focus Brands, parent of both Auntie Anne’s and Jamba, said in a statement. “While we were already underway with identifying ways to enhance our brands’ accessibility, the study results confirmed our strategy to cobrand this location with Jamba.”
Auntie Anne’s has grown up with America’s malls. Its pretzels and pretzel dogs have been popular with mall customers looking for a snack while shopping.
But mall traffic has been a problem for some time as retail shifts online. Retail shops are closing and entire malls were struggling even before the pandemic. That has prompted efforts like delivery incentives for drivers and more online ordering.
The pandemic only made matters infinitely worse. Entire malls were closed due to state mandates, meaning many of Anne’s 1,200 U.S. locations had no customers at all for a time.
U.S. system sales fell 38% last year, according to the Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report.
But opening stand-alone Auntie Anne’s units isn’t necessarily practical given Anne’s narrow product offerings.
Enter cobranding, which is starting to see a modest revival of sorts as brands have sought to do more with existing restaurant capacity while demand for takeout remains strong. Focus operates several brands, including chains like Jamba and Cinnabon, that operate in the beverage and snacks category that potentially go well together.
Anne’s already has cobranded locations with Cinnabon and the ice cream chain Carvel. But the Jamba unit is its first with a drive-thru.
“Considering how the pandemic has changed consumer preferences, we recognize the importance of building our off-premise offerings and evolving our development capabilities to provide franchisees with additional opportunities, including co-brand locations that have the potential for enhanced revenue,” Krause said.
More than a quarter of Jamba’s locations have a drive-thru, and the brand wants to add them in half of its new locations.
Anne’s is looking to add more non-mall locations, including some with drive-thrus, along with co-branded locations and units near college campuses and food trucks. The company said that Jamba franchisees are asking to add the pretzel brand to their existing locations.
“Auntie Anne’s has become synonymous with malls and airports, but for some time we’ve been looking for opportunities to grow outside of these traditional locations,” Kristen Hartman, president of Focus Brands’ specialty category. “The opportunities that become available when we leverage our full portfolio are endless.”