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The winner of the fast-casual salad wars? Sweetgreen, with 91 restaurants in 8 states, and a network of 150 farmers

Want people to care about farm-to-table produce? Treat it like a sneaker drop.

The winner of the fast-casual salad wars? Sweetgreen, with 91 restaurants in 8 states, and a network of 150 farmers
Sweetgreen’s Koginut bowl launched last fall. [Photo: Jamie Chung; Food stylist: Ali Nardi at Apostrophe]





With 91 restaurants in eight states and a network of 150 farmers across the country, Sweetgreen has created a fast-casual, farm-to-table empire that’s poised to expand by (at least) another 15 outposts this year. Here’s how the company has embraced innovation to extend its ethos:

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Cult products

Sweetgreen has a history of collaborating with prominent chefs (David Chang, Nancy Silverton) on special dishes. Last November, it teamed with chef Dan Barber’s Row 7 Seed Company to launch a salad featuring Robin’s Koginut, a varietal of squash bred by Barber’s team. Sweetgreen worked with its farmers to seed the crop, then debuted the Koginut bowl with the hype of a sneaker drop and its own Times Square billboard. When it comes to marketing, “we look outside the food world,” says cofounder and chief concept officer Nicolas Jammet.

Smarter delivery

With more than half of its orders coming through its app (which more than a million people have downloaded), the company is finding ways to get food to customers more efficiently. Its new Outpost program offers free delivery to employees of participating companies: Meals ordered in the morning are dropped off at set times to office buildings each afternoon. With 75 offices signed up and 150 more in the pipeline, “Outpost could be as big or bigger than our restaurants one day,” says cofounder and chief brand officer Nathaniel Ru. The company is now working to integrate delivery services into its app.

A secure supply chain

In 2017, the company began a pilot with blockchain startup Ripe.io to install sensors in one of Sweetgreen’s Boston-area farms to learn the best times for harvesting–and eating–local cherry tomatoes. Sweetgreen expanded the partnership last year to examine how different variables affect the taste profiles of other ingredients. The move lays the foundation for Sweetgreen to use blockchain to track all of the company’s ingredients from farm to restaurant; this could be deployed to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness as the company expands.

Less waste

Sweetgreen ditched its rounded takeout bowl last summer for a compostable hexagonal one. The wider, shallower receptacles allow customers to toss their salads themselves, which enabled restaurants to eliminate metal mixing bowls from their production lines. This keeps customers moving through the stores more quickly and saves water (less dishwashing) and lost produce. Sweetgreen estimates that this adjustment saved more than half a million pounds of food waste last year alone.

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