Wetzel’s New Concept is a Twist on its Best Parts

Twisted by Wetzel’s in La Habra, CA

Article Source: QSR

The brand’s first storefront model taps into the snacking craze.

Wetzel’s Pretzels CMO Kim Freer observed two data points intersecting at a clear point. Snacking has tripled in the last decade, with 90 percent of Americans trading out a meal for a snack at least once per week. Meanwhile, Wetzel’s saw its same-store sales climb 11.3 percent last year as it expanded by 29 stores, building upon a nearly 24 percent jump the year prior versus 2019. So the 29-year-old brand entered 2023 riding a 35 percent three-year stack over pre-COVID days. Average-unit volumes were $856,000 in 2022 as well, up from $702,175 at the end of 2021.

In a phrase, “People want pretzels,” Freer says. “How do we provide that to them in even more accessible locations and interesting ways?”

It’s an enviable dilemma. Consumer trends and internal results suggested the only thing slowing Wetzel’s was its own availability. Freer and the brand had to find ways to get pretzels to the people. 

In recent years, this compass spun different paths for the brand, where 75 percent of its footprint today can be found in malls. There was an LAX opening last year. A partnership with Macy’s to open inside the retail giant’s boxes. A fleet of food trucks continues to expand. As do units within Walmarts and through a partnership with the Phillips 66 family of convenience stores. It all adds up to a 2023 projection of 50 total openings.

But among this evolving lineup, one iteration Wetzel’s was missing was a storefront that could offer franchisees a chance to lock down real estate with road visibility and the potential for outdoor seating. 

Or as Freer explains, a restaurant that goes beyond the grab-and-go DNA of Wetzel’s and into a 360-degree experience. “In a complement to our core locations that we have today, it’s the idea of coming out onto the street with a more expansive menu to hit all of the dayparts, as well as showing some of our innovations that we’ve really been known for,” she says.

On May 10, the brand hosted a grand opening of “Twisted by Wetzel’s” at California’s La Habra Marketplace. From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., the location handed out one free item for anybody who followed the store on social media.

Before unpacking the new concept, Freer has some additional thoughts on why timing lined up. Snacking was climbing before the pandemic, as noted. But like a crop of foodservice trends, the crisis, while it didn’t invent the trend, did throw kindling under it. “Everyone seems to be trying to cram more into the same 24 hours—taking the kids to soccer practice, having nighttime commitments, trying to work out, doing your actual work job,” she says. “All of thing things that you’ve got on the schedule. And so, there’s this need to try to fill yourself and feel good about the high-quality food that you’re eating in a quick manner so you can get on to the next thing.”

And where COVID mixed in: “I think it blurred the lines a lot in terms of restaurants that would be heavy lunch and heavy dinner, just during those dayparts. I think that has leveled out a little bit,” Freer adds.

In other terms, and this has been evident at beverage brands like Starbucks and Dunkin’ of late, daypart hours jumbled. It’s no longer just an hour where people leave the office, race to lunch, and rush back. With hybrid and remote work, there’s a general sense of flexibility when it comes to “break time” for consumers. AKA, snack time in Wetzel’s case, which Freer says people are tapping throughout the day.

“It’s part of a more millennial, Gen Z mindset, too,” she notes. “Eating more often in smaller portions. But it’s also that accessibility and ability with the flexibility we all have.”

Wetzel’s connected with F&B innovation agency The Culinary Edge—the group that helped develop Starbird—to conceive the Twisted brand. The guiding notion, Freer says, was to take what makes Wetzel’s special at its core (freshness and that famed handmade dough, which is created with just a few ingredients and a mixer) and build from there. “The idea of starting inward and then saying, ‘we’ve always been known for innovation; how do we take it to that next level and turn the imaginative creations, different forms, and flavors, and take that same dough and twist it in new ways, whether it’s stuffed or drizzled,’” Freer says.

The result being a concept that amplifies products diners know and love, yet also introduces fresh takes; inventions that feel Wetzel’s all the way down.

As the below lineup shows, everything was inspired by the center twist of the original pretzel. Usually, it’s guests’ favorite part to dig into, Freer says. “How do we take that and make that a whole eating experience?” she says. 

Here’s a look at the answer:

Twistz: Twisted and braided pretzel dough stuffed with cheese and sprinkled with toppings. Options feature the Pizza Bomb, Wetz Coast Club or Triple Grilled Cheese. 

Dogz: Options include the Baja Boardwalk, complete with jalapeños, green onion, slaw and Cilantro Baja Sauce atop a spiral bun, as well as Wetz Coast Classic, Sriracha Soul and Everything Bacon.

Loaded Bitz: Wetzel’s riff on loaded fries. Sweet and savory pretzel bites drizzled and finished with inventive toppings. One being the S’mores Bitz, a classic Bitz, smothered in chocolate fudge, mini marshmallows, graham cracker crunch and chocolate chips. Other options include Bacon Ranch and Baja Elote.

Topped Pretz: Wetzel’s traditional full-sized pretzels topped with new flavors. Options include the Nashville Heat, covered in Wetz Cheese Sauce and dusted with Nashville spice, and the Maple Bacon, with a maple glaze and crispy bacon bits, among others. 

Pretzel Chimney Cakes: The brand’s pretzel dough, rolled in sugar crystals and filled with soft serve. Available in Cookies & Cream, Chocolate Brownie, and more.

House-Made Drinks: Lemonades, floats, and more, like the sweet and tangy Mangonada, made with real mango frozen lemonade, chili lime seasoning, and sipped through a tamarind straw.

Freer personally gravitates toward the Twistz category, “because it fits both savory and sweet, but certainly is meal worthy.” She considers the Chimney Cakes the most “imaginative” item.

Returning to logistics, “Twisted by Wetzel’s” was a name ideated along the same principles as the offerings. Grab and hold the equity of the brand but ensure there’s a sense of discovery as well. “It’s what you know, but there’s also things that you’ve never seen before,” Freer says.

Additionally, Wetzel’s had to create separation so there wouldn’t be confusion across concepts. Those sugar-crystal rolled Chimney Cakes won’t be coming to the mall, for instance.

The word “Twist” stems from the roll-and-bake nature of the brand, while also serving as a signal this is a “twist” on the average Wetzel’s.

Freer envisions “Twisted by Wetzel’s” targeting power shopping centers in densely populated urban, suburban, as well as college town settings. Picture complexes with anchors like Target that can spread foot traffic across. “But really, we’re working to create a menu and a store design and experience—with a food theater with an open kitchen where you can see the rolling and drizzling and all of that—where it is, in our mind, destination worthy as well,” she says.

“It’s someplace you want to go,” Freer continues. “I say, ‘camera eats first when you’re there.’ Because you do want to take the picture, but the food is so good you’re going to want to come back again and again.”

The model unlocks additional pathways for growth to allow franchisees, present and prospective, the ability to scale faster. It opens “all kinds” of new territory given the company hasn’t gone to the street before, Freer says.

The first opening was a corporate store. But No. 2 will be a franchise run by a current Wetzel’s operator who wants to diversify an already varied suite. He runs all of the chain’s other setups, from food truck to traditional mall to Walmart. “So, certainly, he’s seen the strength of the brand and feels this is an extension of that,” Freer says. 

Grab your piece of the pretzel.

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