The next few months will see a flurry of openings of Saladworks locations in U.S. Walmart stores.
The fast-casual restaurant’s parent company, WOWorks, signed an agreement with Ghost Kitchen Brands for 60 stateside locations this year. These have rolled out more slowly than expected because of labor shortages, according to the company, but could lead to 1,000 Saladworks Walmart locations by the end of 2022.
A recent deal between Walmart and Ghost Kitchen Brands will see the latter company setting up shop inside at least 30 U.S. Walmart stores in the next two years, offering Walmart shoppers a range of restaurant brands, including Saladworks, for takeout and delivery. Ghost Kitchen Brands will run the first Walmart locations, and WOWorks CEO Kelly Roddy said that moving forward, all franchised locations will be run by large groups of franchisors.
Saladworks already operates within other grocery stores—Kroger, The Giant Company and ShopRite—but the new deal will introduce the brand to states such as South Carolina, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington.
The first U.S. in-Walmart location opened Sept. 1 in Rochester, N.Y.; others already were up and running in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, Canada. The first 60 U.S. locations will be in the Northeast; additional locations will follow.
Opening Saladworks within grocery stores makes sense for both operators, Roddy said.
Because of COVID, “salad bars have mostly been pulled out or revamped," said Roddy. "So that need and desire [for salad] is there. And we have seen, in our test, that there is a need for clean, healthy food that's prepared right in front of you, and that's what we provide."
They're also a great way to provide healthful food to underserved urban areas, he said, adding that he sees the next opportunity in "mini grocery stores … in urban areas where good-for-you brands haven't gone."
The Canadian stores, the first of which opened last February, are doing well, Roddy said, though business is different from what he originally anticipated, with more customers buying groceries online than they did just 18 months ago. At the same time, consumers have embraced third-party delivery, replacing much of the in-store business he expected to see.
The new Walmart-located Saladworks represent a collaboration between the restaurant chain and the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer. "Walmart gives you the space and you coordinate with the local managers, but the build is done by our franchisees' contractors," Roddy explained. Other brands, like Kroger, prefer to manage everything themselves. Saladworks grocery locations beyond Walmart are company stores operated by the brand itself.
Supermarket Saladworks locations produce lower revenue than traditional stores but are great for visibility and brand awareness, and "you can get to market much quicker this way," Roddy said. These locations are also less expensive to build out, he added.
"Walmart is a big opportunity, and we’ll just have to make sure we do a good job of serving those guests because the returns could be great," he said.