Innovative Retailer – SweetGreen

Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS Group

Name: SweetGreen

The Place: America basically. Currently standing at 72 units spread all over the country with another handful opening soon.

The Story: Back in 2007 three business undergraduates at Georgetown University Business School tried to find some good food off-campus and failed abysmally. The good, healthy, nutritious salad options full of locally produced stuff they were dreaming of just did not exist.

Young, male business students surely don’t dream of salad! Welcome to Washington. Anyway, one of them, Nicolas Jammet, has restauranteurs for parents, and he along with fellow co-founders Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru, began to think how they might address that.

And came up with SweetGreen? Exactly. Took the idea to friends and family to invest which around 40 did and lo, one single salad-serving unit was born to supply chopped cos lettuce to the land of the free. Passion and purpose are the company’s watchwords – and you can even buy the beanie hat which says so.

So, lettuce. You have to remind me why I might be interested in this: Cut to now with several rounds of VC investment behind them and last reported sales in 2015 of $50 million.

OK, that’ll do it. Back on board. Well now, salad – where can we go with this? We go local with this. As the founders are fond of saying – their customers do not go to a SweetGreen, they go to their SweetGreen. There are 500 local producers in the company’s food supply chain and if the store manager cannot get a product supplied from near enough then it will not form part of the menu. Menus are divided into different regional areas online so you can browse what your SweetGreen’s will be offering.

But it’s just salad… Philistine. This provenance and transparency is precisely what people flock to it for. All suppliers are chalked up on a board so you can see exactly where your salad ingredients came from and everything is cooked from scratch. Secondly, the menu changes and refreshes with the seasons – with a seasonally rotating menu which tries to accurately reflect the time of year.

But it’s just salad… Peasant. SweetGreen sees itself as a critical link between growers and consumers and tries to minimise the enormous disconnect that has grown up between people and the food they eat.

So even though it is just salad, the tomatoes grown on your own allotment taste better? Basically yes and they are also better for the world. The reconnaissance teams will only accept supplies from farms which raise meat humanely, keep them cage-free, and on a veggie diet. The same high standards apply for all vegetable produce used. In addition, the kitchens are all open plan – you will see the people stripping the beans for your salad – another disconnect in the world of pre-packaged food.

You know what, I do get it but I just can’t account for its amazing popularity: Well, tossed in with the healthy micro-greens is a little dollop of stardust vinaigrette.

I literally have no idea what you just said then: SweetGreen is also in the business of selling a lifestyle and ethos, which is nothing to do with cress.

Ah: Imagine for example the likelihood of a major pre-packed salad provider putting on an annual music festival (SweetLife ran from 2011 until this year), which features stars like The 1975 or Blondie and also mixes music and sustainability. Trying to build a solid community around sustainable food.

I am trying. Nope, can’t do it: I put it to you that Kendrick Lemar would not allow a salad endorsement featuring with anyone else other than SweetGreen.

Salad endorsement – Is that some sort of weird musical term where the founders do a joint rap with him? No, it’s where the world famous rapper works with them to market a salad named after one of his lyrics.

No way. What was in it? Chicken, kale, beets and rice. Guess what it was called?

Surprise me. Beets Don’t Kale My Vibe – isn’t that funny?

Oh, right. Yes. V Good: You obviously get that it is a pun on his famous song B***h, Don’t Kill My Vibe’.

Obviously: They sell t-shirts of that one too. But lots of the salads have witty names – try ‘I Made That Peach Famous’.

Hilarious. Umm: Sigh. Kanye West lyric. You are so not the target customer.

Sorry: I personally like ‘Kale Caesar’ best.

Oh, oh that one I do actually get: The company sells notelet packs of its punning salad names – that’s how popular they are.

I hope they actually taste nice in amongst all this coolness: Well, if you don’t like what you see on the menu you can always customise your own.

That’s more like it. How? First choose a base, then add another four core ingredients – all in season and locally sourced of course. Move onto premium items like chicken, roasted peppers, eggs and finally choose from 16 dressings.

There’s not even that many dressings in the whole world: No, there really are. But talking of taste let me introduce you to the WastED salad collaboration from 2015 with chef Dan Barber from Blue Hill.

Yes? A dish made entirely from the bits of vegetables and food that people normally throw away. Stale ends of bread, carrot tops, broccoli leaves, kale stems. It highlighted food waste and tasted good too.

And does this maverick-ness extend to the stores themselves? Yup, there is no corporate look and local artists’ work is on the walls. And they tend to choose unusual and quirky sites.

Is there anything we don’t like about this company: Yes there are none in the UK.

I’ll have a word. Don’t build your part up.

PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe.


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