Let’s twist again: Pretzels make a comeback

March 29, 2011 | by Alicia Kelso

As we barrel toward National Pretzel Day, April 26, it seems as though there is much to celebrate about these twisted treats.

Midway through 2010, some analysts began predicting a pretzel resurgence, attributing convenience, cost, portability, variety and versatility.

The pretzel forecast includes innovative infusions into dishes such as bread bowls or pizza crusts, as well as a boost in the traditional snacks-on-the-go segment.

"I've seen an emergence that pretzels are being used as bread, such as burgers being served on pretzel rolls, or as a pizza crust. But (the trend) is also trickling down to the Auntie Anne's, Pretzelmakers, etc.," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. "You can get quite a variety and flavor profiles — from savory to sweet — out of pretzels, and I think that's why we're starting to see them being used more."

Pretzel brands experiencing a boost

It seems for the most part analysts were spot on. Valerie Kinney, director of communications for Auntie Anne's Inc., said the company is experiencing a positive sales trend for many reasons.

"The portable nature, the 'fresh'-baked creation process, the relatively small cost, and the ability to leisurely eat your pretzel and manage your portion size are all attributes that appeal to consumers," she said. "More consumers are time-pressed; they are looking for a snack or light meal that is satisfying and that they can customize to fit their lifestyles. We believe trend watchers have pretzels on the radar because guests appreciate their flexibility/customization."

Auntie Anne's experienced sales improvements throughout 2010, compared to 2009, including the best "Black Friday" sales week in the company's history. Thus far in 2011, the company continues to turn in positive (2-4 percent) comp sales.

This boost extends from performance to popularity, as well. Auntie Anne's Facebook fan count has gone from 25,000 in April 2009 to more than 252,000 now.

The company plans to use this momentum to expand its footprint and continue embracing product innovation.

"We anticipate opening between 50 to 60 new domestic locations in 2011. Internationally, we're planning on 61 total openings in 2011," Kinney said. Auntie Anne's also recently opened its first unit in Poland, its 23rd country.

From an R&D perspective, the company recently launched Original and Cinnamon Sugar Nuggets (bite-sized pretzel pieces) to further woo consumers.

Pretzelmaker, which in 2009 absorbed Pretzel Time and is managed by NexCen Franchise Management Inc., also is experiencing a sales and fan-base lift, according to Jenn Johnston, the company's chief marketing and operations officer.

Sales began rising in the summer of 2010, when Pretzelmaker also saw a "huge increase" in its email list and in the number of its Facebook fans.

"Not only are we starting to see greater numbers on our Facebook page, but people are having daily conversations, not just 'liking' the brand," Johnston said. "What's perhaps a little surprising about this is we hadn't done anything differently from a marketing strategy to get them to do so."

That is changing this year, as Pretzelmaker anticipates a growing social media presence. It kicked off these efforts in January with the launch of its "Cheers with a Twist" promotion.

The brand also is planning on a growing menu and a growing footprint. Pretzelmaker spent much of 2010 innovating its beverage options in addition to adding Mini Pretzel Dogs — miniature all-beef hot dogs wrapped in original pretzel dough.

This year, Johnston anticipates featuring three to four limited-time offers and perhaps some permanent additions as well.

"We have 20 products in the pipeline right now that are all pretzel-based," she said.

Pretzelmaker also expects a "rapid expansion," both domestically and internationally, beginning this year.

"We are constantly signing to get our brands in different markets, and we expect great growth in 2011," Johnston said.

Snack time

What benefits concepts such as Pretzelmaker and Auntie Anne's is also what perhaps affected them during the recent recession. Both are positioned in high-traffic retail areas such as shopping malls — locations that were hit exceptionally hard by tightening purse strings.

"We have had several very good weeks recently because there has been a resurgence in the economy and therefore an increase in mall traffic," Johnston said.

But the economy's rebound isn't the only reason pretzels are making a big splash. Pretzel dough is inexpensive and easy to bake.

Also, consumers looking for that special treat at the end of the day can often find it in a pretzel, which in Latin is "pretiola," or little reward. Whether or not you consider them as such doesn't take away from their categorization as a "snack," a segment within the foodservice industry that has been trending favorably for a few years now, with no signs of slowing down.

A recent study by Technomic found that more than half of consumers snack at least once a day, and consumers aged 18-24 are more likely to snack outside the home. The majority of their snacks come from retail locations as opposed to restaurants. Additionally, the National Restaurant Association once again listed "snacks" in its top 10 trends for 2011.

"Snacking is still growing, and these concepts provide a great opportunity for people on-the-go, for people who don't have time to have full meals or need something quick in between meals," Tristano said. "Consumers also like that the price points for pretzels are low and they provide a lot of innovation in terms of sizes and portions. They tide you over and are extremely portable. They're the perfect snack food."

Pretzelmaker marks National Pretzel Day

Pretzelmaker, which is managed by GFG Management LLC, a subsidiary of Global Franchise Group, will host its annual National Pretzel Day celebration April 26 with the "sing for your snack" theme.

On April 26, customers are invited to sing a snippet from a song of their choice at participating Pretzelmaker locations and receive a free soft pretzel while supplies last. Tone-deaf patrons also have the chance to win simply by saying "National Pretzel Day."

Pretzelmaker will also mark the occasion by donating $30,000 to the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring instrumental music education in America's public schools.

Additionally, through May 31, customers can text "PRTZLMKR" to 90999 to donate $5 to the foundation.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability , Coffee/Bakery/Donut , Customer Service / Experience , Food & Beverage , Franchising & Growth , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Online / Mobile / Social , Operations Management , Trends / Statistics

Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.
View Alicia Kelso's profile on LinkedIn

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