Variations on a fairly simple baked good have brought in a lot of dough for US franchise Auntie Anne’s. The chain got its start in 1988, when Anne Beiler bought a stand in a Pennsylvania farmer's market, selling her experiments with creating the perfect pretzel. Now, it’s got outlets across America and 35 sites in the UK and Ireland.
Who knew you could do so much with a humble pretzel? The menu’s soft variety comes with sweet toppings like cinnamon sugar, almond and raisins, as well as savoury options such as sour cream and onion, roasted garlic and parmesan, pepperoni and jalapeno.
The chain claims all its goods are freshly made, and it has invested in a vegan version made without butter.
More experimental are the bite-sized pretzel nuggets, which come in an original version or topped with cinnamon or pepperoni. Those who want a different take on the hot dog, meanwhile, can opt for a sausage-stuffed pretzel (dubbed, appropriately enough, the pretzel dog), which can be accessorised with a three-cheese blend and jalapenos.
A choice of sauces accompany orders, with flavours like caramel, sweet glaze, cheese, hot salsa cheese, light cream cheese, marinara and honey mustard.
Consumers can also have a pretzel party. Auntie Anne’s offers catering for events, and a third of its sites deliver through UberEats and Deliveroo. Next up for the grab-and-go munch: festivals.
Victoria Gale, marketing and franchise recruitment manager, told Food Spark’s sister site MCA that the company had been approached by food truck operators looking to offer something different to burgers and doughnuts at festivals, and that it and was exploring opportunities in this area, with a view to developing plans further in 2019.
Auntie Anne’s has seen strong trading figures despite the well-documented decline on high streets in the UK, with like-for-like sales currently up around 5.5% year-on-year across the network, according to Gale.
There are plans to launch a new customer app this month called Pretzel Perks, using a points-based system to reward customers with free items from the menu when they reach certain levels. Special bundle deals are also available only on the app.
“Once we have built our database up, we can learn more about our customers and do some testing so that we can create a strategy of offering discounts based on what we know our customers like,” Gale said.
But will we see Sparkie joining the pretzel party?
We seem to be going through a spate of trying to modify existing traditional foods despite trends pushing against this. I think it’s likely to remain niche because of this, but probably would hesitate to call it a fad.
If the product is good and the price point is reasonable, it will do well in the right environment, but it’s certainly not something everyone should immediately switch to producing. The product will appeal for the novelty and convenience of being an easy-to-handle food that you can take into a crowd without much risk.