Thanks for Visiting!

Register for free to get the full story.

Sign Up
Already have a Placer.ai account? Log In

Return of the Lunch: Salad Chains Are Thriving

by 
Bracha Arnold
 on 
May 24, 2023
Return of the Lunch: Salad Chains Are Thriving

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent work-from-home orders dealt a significant blow to many downtown lunchtime eateries –  but now, salad chains are once again experiencing an increase in visits. We take a closer look at three leading players in the industry - Chopt, Sweetgreen, and Just Salad – to see how they are faring in a hybrid office world.

More Salad For You 

Chopt, Sweetgreen, and Just Salad all experienced visit growth over the past few years relative to a January 2020 baseline, with the three chains consistently outperforming the wider QSR and fast-casual categories. Visits to these salad chains have been on an upward trajectory from mid-2021, despite pandemic restrictions, hybrid office formats, and inflation.

What is driving the resilience of these chains? One possible explanation is that, as interest in healthy food continues to rise, more and more consumers are frequenting restaurants where they can grab a nutrient-dense meal. 

The visit growth is also likely driven by fleet expansion. Sweetgreen opened 36 new stores in 2022 and Just Salad nearly doubled its physical footprint between 2021 and 2022, while Chopt has also expanded into new markets.

Lunchtime Runs Look Different

Pre-pandemic, many office workers looked forward to their daily salad bowl. But with many offices going hybrid, how have visitation patterns to these lunchtime destinations shifted? 

A closer look at the visitor journey for salad chain customers indicates that more people are visiting these chains from home, with the share of customers to each chain coming from home increasing between 2019 and 2023. At two of the three chains analyzed the share of customers returning to their homes following a visit also grew.

This suggests that, despite the staying power of remote and hybrid work, many consumers are still willing to venture out to grab lunch – and salad chains seem to be pivoting to meet their customers where they are. Sweetgreen and Just Salad are focusing their current expansion on the suburbs, while NYC-based Chopt is moving south to reach more residential areas. And the increase in overall visits coupled with the larger share of traffic coming to and from work indicates that this strategy seems to be working for these brands. 

Loyal to the Salad

Location intelligence indicates that the three salad chains are not only seeing strength relative to pre-pandemic – zooming into more recent traffic metrics indicates that these brands are also solidifying their position among healthy food fans. Sweetgreen, Just Salad, and Chopt all saw an increase in their share of returning visitors between Q1 2022 and Q1 2023. 

The increase in returning visitors may be partially due to the chains’ respective loyalty programs. Sweetgreen’s loyalty program, which has both a free and paid tier, relaunched in April 2023. Eco-conscious Just Salad gives customers discounts for bringing in their reusable bowls, another way to encourage repeat visits in addition to its loyalty program. And Chopt, which has leaned into the omnichannel restaurant trend, operates an app which allows guests to customize their order and earn rewards. 

Fresh Bites

Once a fixture of office-building-heavy downtown areas, the salad bar has managed to adapt and shift to a new hybrid-work reality. By building customer loyalty, tapping into consumer interest in healthy foods, and even relocating to the suburbs, these salad chains prove that they can thrive under all circumstances. 

For more data-driven dining insights, visit placer.ai/blog.

Get 3 brand & industry
breakdowns every week

Subscribe to the newsletter

Great! Prepare your inbox for data-driven insights...
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Get a Demo

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please provide a valid email
Please enter your email
Please enter company name

Thanks for reaching out!

One of our experts will be in touch soon

Try Placer.ai Free
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Text Link
Sweetgreen
Text Link
Just Salad
Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and Five Below: Q1 2024 Treasure Troves
CAVA Still Going Strong
Driving Success: Auto Parts Chains in 2024
Checking in With DICK’S Sporting Goods
Mother’s Day Shopping and Dining Trends
Placer.ai Mall Index: April 2024 Recap – Retail Resilience Heading into Spring
Dollar Stores Still Gaining Momentum
Off-Price Apparel Chains After Q1 2024: Demographics in the Balance
Walmart, Target, and Wholesale Clubs Continue to Thrive
Home Improvement and Decor Check In
Placer.ai Office Index: April 2024 Recap – Recovery Continues
Movie Theaters in Q1 2024: A Preview of Coming Attractions?
Let’s Get Physical: Fitness In 2024
Where Are Workers Returning to Office in 2024?
2024 Wins: Sweetgreen & First Watch on the Rise
A Full-Service Turnaround: Bloomin’, Dine, and Texas Roadhouse
Wendy’s and Denny’s: Breakfast and Late Night Dining Drives Success
Coffee Chains: Q1 2024 Update and What’s Changed Since COVID
Checking in with RBI and YUM!
Chipotle & McDonald's Serving Up Success
Wingstop & Shake Shack Continue Growing Their Reach 
Strong Start for Sprouts in 2024
Crocs’ Footwear Fairytale
Who Attends NCAA Final Four Events?
Eclipse Fever: How Did the (Retail and Hospitality) Stars Align?
Exploring Albertsons Companies’ Grocery Growth
Placer.ai Mall Index: March 2024 Recap – Malls Rise Again
Placer.ai Office Index: March 2024 Recap
Florida Spring Break Break-Up? Travelers Still Love Florida!
Provo-Orem and Ogden-Clearfield Emerging As Utah Hotspots 
Three Formulas for Experiential Retail in 2024
Aldi & Lidl Making The Cut
Texas Suburbs on the Rise
Exploring Luxury Hotel Brands’ Guest Segmentation
The St. Patrick’s Day Effect
How Can JOANN Make a Comeback?
Panera Bread Well Positioned for Possible IPO
Who Will Benefit From Family Dollar’s Downsizing?
Dave & Buster’s and Main Event Entertainment: Food and Fun for Everyone
Darden Brands: Location Analytics and Consumer Behavior
Nike and lululemon: a Strong 2023, Sprinting into 2024
Where Is Retail and Dining Foot Traffic Thriving in Early 2024?
Placer.ai White Paper Recap – February 2024
Three Retail & Dining Chains That May Surprise in 2024
Specialty Discount Chains Rock Retail Therapy
Placer.ai Mall Index: February 2024
Placer.ai Office Index: February 2024 Recap
Ulta Beauty Continues To Shine
First Watch Sails Into 2024
Hibbett Sports and DICK’S Sporting Goods: A Psychographic Analysis
Checking in With Discount & Dollar Stores
Peeking Behind The Curtain: Movie Theaters in 2023 and Beyond
Diving Into Brick-and-Mortar Eyewear
Getting Into Gear: Exploring The Auto Part Industry
Recapping Valentine’s Day 2024 Foot Traffic Trends
Fitness: A Strong Start to 2024
Dutch Bros. Continues To Percolate Visits
Super Bowl 2024: Placer.ai’s Postgame Foot Traffic Analysis
CAVA & sweetgreen Are On the Rise
Hats Off For Off-Price
Who Is Shopping at Malls?
Drilling Down Into Home Improvement
Walmart, Target, Costco & Superstore Space 2023 Recap
Catching Up With Shake Shack and Wingstop
Something To Chew On: Demographic Shifts at Steakhouse Chains
Placer.ai Office Index: Looking Back at 2023
Recapping RBI & Yum! Brands’ 2023 Foot Traffic Performance
Placer.ai White Paper Recap – January 2024
Who Shops at Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters?
Three Taco Chains to Watch in 2024
Starbucks and Dunkin’: 2023 in Four Data Points
Who Visits CVS and Walgreens?
Fashionably Frugal: Apparel in 2023
Catching Up With Fast Food
The Grocery Sector in 2023: An End-of-Year Recap
3 Mall & Shopping Center Trends for 2024
Bakery Chains Rising To The Top
Placer.ai and Esri Partner to Deliver Geospatial Analytics
Tampa Tourism Trends
Going For The Green: The Changing Dynamics Of Country Clubs
Christmas Day Dining Recap
Major Urban Shopping Districts – Holiday Season Recap
Placer.ai Office Index: December 2023 Recap
Recapping the 2023 Holiday Shopping Season
Placer.ai White Paper Recap – December 2023
7 Retail & Dining Segments to Watch in 2024
Diving Into Holiday Season Favorites
Super Saturday and Christmas Eve Eve: A Winning Combination
3 Budget Grocery Chains Finishing 2023 On a High Note
Making It In America: International Chicken Chains Bring The Heat
Domestic Tourism at a Glance: A Q3 2023 Roundup
Five Pizza Chains On The Rise
Jewelry Brands Taking Advantage of the DTC Opportunity
Secondhand News: Kids' Thrift Shops
Recapping 2023’s Dining M&As
MetLife Stadium Kicks Off Football Season
Placer.ai Office Index: November 2023 Recap
Small Coffee Chains Brewing Big Success
Placer.ai White Paper Recap – November 2023
Thanksgiving Travel 2023 Recap