It’s not often that a quick service food chain with just seventy-seven stores joins the illustrious company of industry giants like Starbucks and Dominos as one of the top ten most innovative food companies in the world. Sweetgreen is a brand that has achieved this incredible feat.
Describing itself as a destination for simple, seasonal, healthy food, the US company has become a “darling” of the venture capital world, raising $135 million to date from investors, creating “one of America’s sexiest startups”.
Founded in 2007, the brand has been lauded both by traditional media such as The New Yorker and Wall Street Journal, as well as tech titles including Inc.com and Entrepreneur magazine.
In this article, we explore the impressive achievements of this ambitious young brand, and its approach to both technology and loyalty.
The Original Sweetgreen Store in Washington, D.C.
Three college friends – Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru, all from entrepreneurial parents, met as freshmen in Georgetown University and became firm friends. With a shared love of tasty healthy food, they also believed that food service restaurants have become largely disconnected from their roots, from famers and even from the local community.
They developed a vision of a sustainable lifestyle brand, connecting with communities around food, which resonated with family and friends. Over forty of them invested in the business to provide the initial capital for the trio’s first store.
Since then the company has gone from strength to strength, resulting in a “cult explosion” that they attribute to a combination of discipline and an understanding of the dynamics of a technology start-up brand, to create a new “frontier” in the US food service industry.
1) Sweetgreen exudes integrity – exactly what an increasing number of customers are demanding from brands. Whether as a consumer, or as an employee, key demographics such as millennials and Gen Z want to connect with brands they trust. Sweetgreen’s food ethos focuses on food that’s both regional and seasonal, with a clear brand promise to positively impact the communities they serve.
2) The brand’s marketing strategy meets consumers where they are – on social media. From their early days, the team has leveraged the power of relevant content, clever copy and beautiful imagery to “rock content marketing”.
3) The company doesn’t operate any franchise stores currently – preferring instead to own and operate its stores directly, supported by their team of over 3,500 staff.
4) Technology is a key pillar to their success. The chain has successfully re-structured its operations to allow customers to pre-order, pre-pay and completely “skip the line” using the Sweetgreen app. Co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman, describes this as allowing the brand “to meet customers where they are”, and as well as opening an increasing number of restaurants, investing in technology is a key focus driving the company’s growth.
5) Sweetgreen has gone cashless is most of its stores – accepting only cards or the company’s app for payment. Three reasons were quoted for this decision which rolled out in 2017 – improved security and hygiene – but most importantly the ability to improve the speed of service in store.
1) As with most contemporary loyalty programmes, the Sweetgreen rewards and recognition programme is based on spend (not transactions).
2) There are three status levels or tiers – green members (who spend up to $100 in a year), gold members (who spend up to $1,000 a year) and black members (who spend up to $2,500 per year).
3) Rewards include both functional rewards (value back based on spend) and emotional rewards (designed to appeal to our softer side).
4) The basic reward is a $9 coupon rewards for every $99 spent within 120 days. Only orders placed using the app, online or scan to pay in-store count towards this spend.
5) Each members gets a birthday reward. It’s a $10 coupon and it’s valid for a full 30 days to use with nice messaging to say ‘your birthday meal is on us’.
6) Tier benefits are designed to make members feel like family (Black members are told “we..may have even met your parents.”)
7) Other benefits include access to invite-only events such as exclusive tastings and merchandise and the services of the Sweetgreen concierge. Black members also get an exclusive private party for their ten closest friends!
1) Along with their elegantly simple rewards programme, Sweetgreen have historically run an annual music festival for fans. Originally the idea to use music was a “desperate move” to attract customers when the company opened its second store but had almost no customers in its first few days. This year, the format is changing – returning to a smaller, more intimate “block party” style event in its original home state of Washington.
2) Menu changes are advised to fans of those dishes (only) by email in advance – a practical demonstration of another core value to “cultivate authentic…relationships.”
3) The over-arching intention is “choicelessness” a surprising (and perhaps made-up word) that CEO Jonathan Neman uses to simplify decisions, in an era he describes as “decision fatigue”.
4) The company also has a unique design approach to its storefronts – almost every one is different. While similar, the store formats and branding are varied, further evidence of the intention to localise each store rather than attempt a homogenous brand nationwide.
5) The company has implemented an education programme, visiting public schools to talk to children about sources of nutrition in their diet. A clever strategy, connecting with both the community and potential future customers.
Passion X Purpose
Whether or not you’re a fan of salads, there’s no doubt that the concept of green food, locally and sustainably sourced is clearly resonating. While time is clearly a key priority for the food service sector, it seems that a beautifully crafted brand that connects with customers in more meaningful ways is an even bigger draw. This video show the brand background and insights – one to perhaps ‘copy with pride’?
Video About Sweetgreen’s History.
Liquid Barcodes is a leading global loyalty technology company specialized for the convenience store and foodservice industries. Our proprietary cloud-based technology platform allow retailers to create and manage their digital marketing campaigns with a proprietary process we call the “customer connection cycle’ to engage, promote and reward customers activities in real-time across digital and media channels.
How we do it:
We have developed the most advanced loyalty and digital marketing technology platform specifically for convenience store and foodservice retailers globally.
Retailers use our self-service dashboard to create and manage loyalty driven marketing campaigns that increase purchases with their existing customers, as well as effectively target and acquire new customers through partners or paid media channels.
One core component of live loyalty is gamification. We have gamified branding, loyalty and promotions. We believe this approach is essential in order to get customers’ attention and ultimately truly engage them with repeatable actions thereby winning their loyalty.
Check out some of our exciting/proven results here:
Chief Content Officer, Liquid Barcodes and Independent Loyalty Consultant.
With over twenty-five years marketing experience, I specialise in loyalty marketing consulting, managing consumer loyalty propositions, strategy and operations. In addition to working with Liquid Barcodes, my clients have included Telefonica O2, Three Mobile, Electric Ireland, Allied Irish Bank and The Entertainer, as well as Avios – the global points currency for some of the world’s top airlines. I am also a judge for the Loyalty Magazine Awards.