In response to consumer’s demand for convenience and greater access, Auntie Anne’s recently debuted its first drive-thru in company history.
The 1,200-square-foot Wylie, Texas-based store is co-branded with Jamba and operated by franchisees Shawn and Crystal Bowling. For Auntie Anne’s, which has locations in 49 states and more than 25 countries, the “nontraditional” is traditional. Meaning, the brand is typically found in malls, outlet centers, universities, airports, Walmart, travel plazas, military bases, and food trucks.
But now, Auntie Anne’s parent Focus Brands is committed to enter real estate beyond the mall because of “consumer desire for greater brand accessibility.”
“Consumer research shows that our guests want access to Auntie Anne’s outside of the mall. While we were already underway with identifying ways to enhance our brands’ accessibility, the study results confirmed our strategy to co-brand this location with Jamba,” said Brian Krause, chief development officer of Focus Brands, in a statement. “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 potential for enhanced revenue. We’re pleased to have an excited franchisee on-board to open the Wylie Jamba and Auntie Anne’s co-brand location and look forward to adding more to our pipeline.”
COVID made it clear that drive-thru unlocks massive opportunity in the quick-service segment. The channel increased orders by 4 percent in January 2020 compared to the year prior, and grew them by 22 percent in December, according to the NPD Group. Drive-thru ended the year with a 44 percent share of all off-premises orders.
Auntie Anne’s had 1,152 domestic units to end 2020, a drop of 59 from the previous year, according to its FDD. Of that amount, 1,140 were franchised. Last year, 622 enclosed mall franchises earned $346,939 in average net sales, or a 33 percent decrease year-over-year. The figure doesn’t include 12 mall franchises that opened in 2020 and 45 mall-based franchises that permanently closed. Additionally, 94 outlet center franchises brought in $430,405 in average net sales in 2020, or a 23 percent decrease compared to 2019. The amount excludes one outlet center franchise that opened and three that permanently shut down.
Because of COVID restrictions, malls have suffered greatly through most of the pandemic. Monthly visits dropped 95 percent in April 2020 year-over-year and 80.8 percent in May, according to Placer.ai’s index of over 50 top-tier malls. However, traffic is returning. March’s mall visits were down 23.9 percent compared to 2019, the smallest gap since the pandemic started. Then again, some suggest the demise of malls was underway pre-COVID and that the pandemic just accelerated the process. In August, Coresight Research estimated 25 percent of the U.S.’s 1,000 malls will shut down in the next three to five years.
Auntie Anne’s is exploring a variety of locations outside the mall, including more drive-thru stores, co-branded locations, spots near colleges and universities, and mobile food trucks. More than 25 percent of Jamba units have a drive-thru, and the chain is “aggressively looking” to add drive-thru to 50 percent of new locations. Focus Brands said the chain is already receiving interest from franchisees to add Auntie Anne’s.
“Auntie Anne’s has become synonymous with malls and airports, but for some time we’ve been looking for opportunities to grow outside of those traditional locations to give our guests greater access to a brand they love,” said Kristen Hartman, specialty category president of Focus Brands, in a statement. “Today, we have a number of Auntie Anne’s streetside locations paired with Cinnabon and Carvel. The opportunities that become available when we leverage the power of our full portfolio are endless. I’m incredibly excited to see that through co-branding we are able to add the drive-thru experience to the Auntie Anne’s portfolio and can’t wait to see how guests respond to this enhanced accessibility.”