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CAVA & sweetgreen Are On the Rise

Shira Petrack
February 22, 2024
CAVA & sweetgreen Are On the Rise

Sweetgreen, which IPO-ed in 2021, and CAVA – public since last year – are continuing their growth spurt. We dove into the location intelligence data to understand what is driving success for these emerging fast-casual leaders. 

Cava & sweetgreen’s Impressive Visit Growth Continues

Restaurant visit growth slowed last year as inflation took a toll on discretionary spending. But despite the wider dining deceleration, foot traffic to CAVA and sweetgreen continued to increase, helped by consistent store fleet expansion. Both chains posted year-over-year (YoY) visit gains every month of 2023, even as overall foot traffic to the fast-casual category lagged. 

The positive trends continued in the new year, when consumers braved the cold to drive a 18.4% and 22.3% YoY increase in January 2024 visits – despite the challenging comparison to an already impressive January 2023. 

Higher-Income Visitor Base Helps Drive Growth

Cava and sweetgreen’s success may be attributed to a variety of factors. Both chains are known for their healthy offerings, which may attract the many consumers prioritizing health and wellness in their food choices. Plant-forward meals have also been particularly popular recently, and both CAVA and sweetgreen’s produce-heavy menus align well with this trend. 

The income level of the chains’ visitor bases may be another key driver of Cava and sweetgreen’s success. In general, the potential market trade areas of fast-casual dining chains consists of households with income (HHI) levels that are slightly above the nationwide median. The median HHI in the neighborhoods within those trade areas that feed the most visits to fast-casual chains (the chains’ captured market) is even higher. 

CAVA and sweetgreen’s potential market trade area median HHIs in 2023 was significantly higher than that in the wider fast-casual category – and the captured market median HHI was even greater. The particularly affluent visitor bases of CAVA and sweetgreen were likely less impacted by last year’s economic headwinds, which may have helped the chains continue to grow their footprint – and visit numbers – despite the wider challenges in the space.

Appeal to Singles

The similarities between CAVA and sweetgreen extend beyond their high-income visitor bases and shared emphasis on healthy options – both chains also seem to attract a particularly high share of singles. CAVA and sweetgreen’s captured market trade area include 37.9% and 42.3% of one-person and non-family households, respectively, compared to to an average of 34.1% for the wider Fast-Casual category.

Diving into the psychographics confirms this pattern. The two chains’ captured markets include a larger percentage of Educated Urbanites, defined by PersonaLive as “Well educated young singles living in dense urban areas working relatively high paying jobs.” Young Professionals, defined as “Well-educated young professionals starting their careers in white-collar or technical jobs” and having an average household size of 1, are also overrepresented for CAVA and sweetgreen’s relative to the wider Fast-Casual category. 

The large share of singles in these chains’ trade areas – especially combined with the high median HHI – likely means that CAVA and sweetgreen visitors have fewer overall expenses and fairly large discretionary budgets which can be spent on dining out. 

CAVA & sweetgreen Positioned for Success in 2024

CAVA and sweetgreen thrived in 2023 and appears poised to continue growing in 2024, with visits to both chains skyrocketing even as foot traffic growth tapered off in the wider dining industry. And the company’s success in attracting high-income visitors from small households – who likely have the funds to continue spending on non-essentials despite the ongoing headwinds – means that both companies are well positioned for continued strength in the new year. 

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