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Sweetgreen’s Success

Technology. Delivery. Health. Food.

These four words hold great appeal as individual entities. When combined – particularly in the current pandemic – they prove tremendously relevant, even invaluable. They’re also how one might describe Sweetgreen — the nationwide fast casual chain known for its salads.

Reimagining salad may not sound like a viable reason to start a business — but that was exactly what drove three college friends to open a 500-square foot restaurant in 2007. Originating in Washington DC, Sweetgreen focused on customizable, healthy options with fresh organic produce. Over a decade later, Sweetgreen is now valued at over $1 billion with 104 restaurants nationwide, ever the innovator in both the food and tech spaces.

Now, that innovation has given Sweetgreen a leg up. In the face of Covid – when everything about health and food are upended locally and globally – technology and delivery have become even more important. Because of its strong existing tech infrastructure, Sweetgreen has been uniquely poised to adjust rapidly and effectively with the transparency and traceability that builds consumer trust.

Sweetgreen had already positioned itself as a leader in the fast-casual dining space. A mission-driven, activist brand, and top choice among a growing audience of fiercely loyal, health-conscious, socially-motivated fans, Sweetgreen has – since day 1 – engaged customers across digital platforms, as well as sustainably-designed restaurants in neighborhoods across the country. Part of the Sweetgreen appeal has always been its creative storytelling, bold visuals, and interactive interfaces that make you feel like part of the company, the process, the movement.

In early March, for example, just as Covid began to hit the United States in a major way, Sweetgreen was promoting the launch of a kelp salad to champion marine health, support seaweed farms, and fight climate change in a delicious way, while hosting Twitter chats with advocacy groups on the importance of school food for student health and academics.

Sweetgreen has been able to connect people to real food while prioritizing health and safety with its industry-leading, Fast Company award-winning “outposts,” over 1,000 conveniently located, dedicated drop-off/pickup sites in 9 cities; and a well-designed mobile app.

When the company announced that all 104 restaurants would shift solely to digital ordering on March 16, Sweetgreen promised contact-free delivery. Brick and mortar locations became prep and pickup hubs with no on-site ordering or seating. The app and systems were already in place and thus able to handle the increase in traffic seamlessly.

April marked the launch of the Sweetgreen Impact Outpost Fund in partnership with Chef José Andrés, a longtime collaborator of the fellow DC-based company, with the goal of donating 100,000 meals to healthcare heroes together with Andrés’ non-profit World Central Kitchen. The company was already feeding hospital workers and medical personnel in cities across the country. With the support of a digital fundraising campaign and donation ability within the app, the goal was surpassed in a matter of weeks, serving over 130 hospitals, while bringing back 150 team members and supporting numerous suppliers and farmers nationwide.

In a two month period, Sweetgreen has eliminated in-store ordering and dining and launched an entirely new meal category served on plates (the first major menu shift in years); furloughed, laid off and brought back staff and chosen to return a $10 million PPP loan; navigated the launch of a spring menu despite unexpected supply chain disruptions; and donated well over 100,000 meals scratch-cooked in restaurant kitchens. Add in a hundred-plus new outpost locations to ensure accessibility, new hygiene protocol at every step, and a new COO (formerly of Starbucks), and you will see how one food company is working its way through Covid.

Digital DNA and healthy food for the win. Written for and originally published on Chef Tyler Florence's Full piece here.


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