The first of Sweetgreen’s long-awaited automated restaurants is scheduled to open in Naperville, Ill., outside Chicago, next week.
Sweetgreen CEO and co-founder Jonathan Neman said Thursday the new format, which has been dubbed the Infinite Kitchen, is scheduled to open May 10. Later this year, a second location will open at an existing unit that has been converted into an Infinite Kitchen, from which the company hopes to learn how to integrate the new technology.
“From these pilots, we hope to learn how we can create a more consistent customer experience, faster throughput and make our team members jobs easier and more dynamic,” said Neman. “We believe this new concept, powered by automation, unlocks efficiencies that will enable us to grow more quickly and have higher profit margins.”
The Los Angeles-based fast casual acquired the technology company Spyce in 2021, which then was making headlines with its Rube Goldberg-like robotic makeline with minimal human involvement. Over the past two years, the company has been working with the Spyce technology to adapt it to the Sweetgreen makeline and menu.
Neman has described the technology as being faster, with perfect portioning and better quality—a potentially “transformative” format that could begin rolling out as soon as 2024.
“While still testing and learning, we expect the Infinite Kitchen will be increasingly integrated into our pipeline,” Neman said.
Sweetgreen could use a transformative spark. For the March 26-ended first quarter, the company narrowed its loss to $33.6 million, from a loss of $49.6 million a year ago, indicating that efforts to improve profitability are taking hold.
Revenues increased 22% to $125.1 million, and same-store sales were up 5%, including a 2% increase in traffic. The other 3% was due to menu price increases.
Sweetgreen raised prices 3% at the beginning of the year, with another more-targeted 1% increase in a small number of locations at the beginning of the second quarter. So far, customers have not shown resistance to price hikes, Neman said, though the chain has no more price increases planned for now.
The chain’s average unit volume reached $2.9 million for the quarter, compared with $2.8 million a year ago, which is close to its pre-Covid high.
Sweetgreen opened a net of nine new restaurants during the quarter for a total of 195.
During the quarter, Sweetgreen introduced what it initially called a Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl, which prompted fast-casual competitor Chipotle Mexican Grill to file a trademark lawsuit. Sweetgreen quickly renamed the dish as the Chicken + Chipotle Pepper Bowl.
The skirmish won the bowl a lot of buzz and Neman said it has been one of the top five sellers. Fundamentally, the move is part of an effort to bring more hearty and potentially dinner-worthy dishes to the menu to attract a broader audience during more dayparts.
Neman also announced that Sweetgreen CMO Daniel Shlossman, who helped create Sweetgreen’s recently unveiled new two-tiered loyalty program, is leaving the company. Co-founder Nathaniel Ru, who is also Chief Brand Officer, will absorb Shlossman’s responsibilities.
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