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2024 Wins: Sweetgreen & First Watch on the Rise

by 
Samuel Roche
 on 
May 1, 2024
2024 Wins: Sweetgreen & First Watch on the Rise

Sweetgreen and First Watch both went public in 2021 and have since steadily increased in popularity – and in store count. So with 2024 well underway, we checked in with the two brands to see how they fared in Q1 and to explore some of the factors underlying their success. 

Key Takeaways

  • Both sweetgreen and First Watch experienced robust YoY visit growth between April 2023 and March 2024, fueled both by expansions and by an increase in same-store visits. 
  • Through their respective expansions, sweetgreen and First Watch have succeeded in diversifying their visitor base without losing their core audience.

Sweetgreen’s Successful Expansion

Despite the dining challenges of much of 2023 and early 2024, sweetgreen posted impressive visits between April 2023 and March 2024, with the chain’s YoY traffic increases ranging from 21.4% to 51.6%. 

The remarkable visit surge was partially driven by the sweetgreen’s significant expansion, which could explain the slight dips in average visits per location for much of 2023 while consumers around sweetgreen’s newer restaurantes familiarized themselves with the brand’s offerings. But since December 2023, YoY visits per location have been positive – with the exception of a weather-induced slump in January – indicating that the chain’s newer venues have established themselves within their community. 

This narrowing of the gap between visits and visits per location may also signal the success of sweetgreen’s strategic shift towards prioritizing "quality over quantity” – slowing down expansion and investing in an enhanced customer experience.

Healthy Salads for Everyone

As a salad and grain-bowl chain, sweetgreen holds special appeal for wellness-focused younger consumers, including singles and members of the coveted Gen Z demographic. But as the chain has expanded, it has also succeeded in reaching new audiences.

Sweetgreen has been explicit about its goal of reaching Gen Z consumers. And analyzing the demographic makeup of the chain’s captured market reveals that sweetgreen’s trade area includes a relatively large share of one-person households (that tend to be on the younger side) But analyzing shifts in the chain’s captured market composition over the past five years also reveals that the share of one-person households has been decreasing – while remaining above the nationwide average of 28.0% – and the share of households with children has increased. So even as sweetgreen continues serving its core consumers, the chain’s expansion has also allowed sweetgreen to reach new audiences. 

First Watch’s Never-Ending Expansion

First Watch is also in expansion mode, and with plans to open some 50 more restaurants this year the chain shows no signs of slowing down. And, like sweetgreen, First Watch’s expansion has driven significant growth to the chain’s overall visits – and the chain’s average visits per location numbers are up as well, indicating that the new venues are finding a receptive audience. 

By staying nimble on its feet and continually changing up its menu offerings, First Watch has succeeded in differentiating itself from other breakfast chain giants – and appears poised to enjoy continued success throughout the year.

Expanding Its Reach 

First Watch’s expansion has also helped the company reach new types of diners even as the chain continues catering to its core audience. The share of the Spatial.ai: PersonaLive’s “Upper Suburban Diverse Families” segment in First Watch’s captured market has held steady over the past five years, even as the share of the “Blue Collar Suburbs” and “Urban Low Income” segments increased. It seems, then, that First Watch has also succeeded in leveraging its store fleet expansion to reach new audience segments – without sacrificing its core patrons.

Sweetgreen and First Watch Head into 2024 on an Upswing

Sweetgreen and First Watch’s expansions have helped the companies increase visits and reach new segments – without sacrificing their core audiences. What does the rest of 2024 have in store for the chains?  

Visit our blog at placer.ai to find out. 

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