Sweetgreen, the national fast-casual salad restaurant founded by three college students, recently announced plans to expand further into the middle of the U.S. This news came after the chain hired two former Chipotle executives who have goals of expanding Sweetgreen’s menu, increasing foot traffic at dinner time, and capitalizing on marketing efforts. By doing so, the brand is hoping to appeal to a wider audience beyond their predominately metropolitan locations.

New CivicScience data show that 36% of U.S. adults are aware of Sweetgreen, and 64% have not heard of it – hinting there’s potential to grow brand awareness. In particular, consumers who live in the Northeast are most likely to be familiar with the salad chain, while those living in the West are least familiar with the brand. Interestingly, though, among aware consumers, those living in the West are most likely to be favorable to the brand – perhaps because this region is known to be health-conscious. Whereas, those living in the Northeast and South are most likely to be unfavorable to the chain.

So, how can Sweetgreen appeal to a wider audience? Data looking at a range of factors when dining out at fast-casual restaurants (e.g. Chipotle, Shake Shack) show that Sweetgreen customers are most likely to say they value menu variety the most (38%), which is also most important among fast-casual diners in general. Healthiness of food is the next most popular factor among Sweetgreen fans (35%), far outpacing the percentage of non-fans who say the same. Additionally, they’re much more likely than non-fans to say they value speed the most – a customer base who would likely be interested in Sweetgreen’s infinite robotic kitchens. Most notably, Sweetgreen customers are significantly less likely than non-customers to say price is most important to them, which could be a factor to hone in on when it comes to appealing to those currently neutral and unfavorable to Sweetgreen.

Looking specifically at salad fast-casual restaurants (e.g. Freshii, Tender Greens), data also show there’s a large market opportunity for these types of chains. Over one-third of U.S. adults say they’re either very (8%) or somewhat (27%) interested in eating at salad QSRs, whereas nearly two-thirds are not at all interested in them (66%). 

Salad chains also have significant appeal to customer bases of some of the most popular QSRs. Among a range of fast-food and fast-casual chains, McDonald’s customers are the most interested (51%) in salad fast-casuals, followed by Chick-fil-A (46%) and Chipotle (42%) customers. Wendy’s customers are the least likely to be interested in salad chains (29%), and Subway customers (which was recently acquired by Jimmy John’s owner, Roark Capital) also express lower interest levels (31%). 

Overall, data show that Sweetgreen has the potential to expand brand awareness across the United States by prioritizing menu variety and healthiness of food. They could help broaden their audience by offering lower-priced items to appeal to those currently neutral or unfavorable to Sweetgreen — given price is far more likely to be of most importance to these non-customers than current ones. Lastly, the fast-casual salad chain could generate interest among McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A customers, as they express high intent in salad QSRs in general. 

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