I automatically assume that Sweetgreen begs no introduction, particularly on BC’s health obsessed, trend magnetic campus. However, if you’ve yet to venture across Route 9 to Chestnut Hill Square, I’ll give you the brief lowdown. Sweetgreen (or ~stylized~ “sweetgreen,” if you will) is a fast casual salad restaurant started by three Georgetown students in 2007. The founders’ mentality wasn’t just about “selling [another] lettuce leaf.” They wanted to focus, instead, on sustainability, transparency and relationships with local farms. From this mentality, Sweetgreen was born. Today, the restaurant boasts 87 locations across the country, primarily concentrated in Boston, Manhattan and California. By the end of the year, they hope to reach 100.
And, a more recent addition to its bio—Sweetgreen is also a “tech company.” Does that cubed avocado not look electronic to you?
I took that line with a grain of salt the first time I read it. If you’re a tech company, Sweetgreen, I’m a tech company. You have an app—I get it! But, as Tully’s tweet so aptly pointed out, they’re more than just an app. Lately, Sweetgreen has been up to some other pretty neat things as well.
Blockchain Tomatoes: Sweetgreen’s Partnership with Ripe
The first of Sweetgreen’s most recent tech endeavors is their partnership with Ripe. Ripe, a startup founded by two former Citi employees, uses blockchain and the Internet of Things to provide a “radically transparent digital food supply chain.” To help us understand more tangibly what that means, the founders—Raja Ramachandran and Phil Harris—point to their “blockchain tomatoes.” Beginning this past August, Ripe tracked its tomatoes’ ripeness, color and sugar content in each stage of their growth, recording it using, you guessed it, blockchain. Other factors of the environment including humidity levels, amount of light and air temperature were also noted in the ledger.
This transparent (and tech savvy) process is likely what prompted a partnership with Sweetgreen, who, as I mentioned previously, prides itself upon transparency, sustainability and food safety. Using “detailed records of their [foods’] qualities and condition at each step of the growing and distribution process,” as provided by Ripe, Sweetgreen meets its goals outlined in its “Food Ethos.” Thank you, blockchain and IoT!
Now, that’s what I like to call “transparency in every byte!” (They said it, not me.)
Fun fact—if you’ve been to the Sweetgreen in the Prudential Center in the last couple of months, it’s quite possible that you were one of the first to try the coveted “blockchain tomatoes” tracked in this partnership.
Your Biggest Social Media Stalker: Sweetgreen’s Crowdsourced Menu
In this class, we talk a lot about social media. We talk a lot about the information we put out on social media—our names, our phone numbers, our interests, photos, likes, dislikes, opinions, thoughts on yesterday’s delayed flight, etc. And, in recent weeks, we’ve talked a lot about how companies use that information, often against us. I’m here to redeem your faith in humanity.
Sweetgreen has been using this information for good! On March 29th of this year, it rolled out its largest menu overhaul since its founding in 2007. To do this, for the last four years, Sweetgreen has been stalking you on social media! Or rather, it has been diligently combing through its customers’ social media posts. No, they aren’t wondering where how you spent your Spring Break. They’re looking for feedback about their company, their salads, and their practices.
One author calls this “the kind of social media stalking we’re totally okay with.” After what Co-Founder Nicholas Jammet estimates was thousands of hours of data collection from various social media sites, developers identified several key trends amongst customers:
- Requests for an Italian style salad or bowl
- In response, SG created the Chicken Pesto Farm Bowl
- Requests for a new protein to accommodate vegetarians and vegans
- In response, SG added the Lentil + Avocado Salad
Given our conversations in this class, I saw three important takeaways from this:
- Sweetgreen knows where to find its customers (on social media), something Melissa discussed the importance of on Wednesday.
- Sweetgreen knows how to respond to customer requests on those platforms, as evident by the new additions.
- It’s pretty freaking cool that social media users almost exclusively drove the menu change at such a well-known restaurant. To anyone that’s ever uttered the word “Sweetgreen” on a digital platform, congrats…the new menu has been well received.
The Not So Special, But Actually Special Sweetgreen App
I know what you’re thinking. An app is hardly revolutionary these days. Saved the best for last! However, I think it’s important to point out that in 2013, Sweetgreen was the first fast casual restaurant to launch an app. Fast forward five years and it’s pretty clear how being the first mover has given them a leg up. By the end of 2018, Sweetgreen estimates the they will have over 1 million customers on the app and will process over 50% of their total orders online. For a company as small as Sweetgreen, that’s an impressive figure, considering Starbucks attributes only 30% of its orders to its mobile app.
Because of how widely the app has been adopted over the past few years, the fast casual restaurant has capitalized on the comprehensive and unique data it provides. Jonathan Neman, one of the original founders and current CEO, argues that “it’s the main way we understand ingredient popularity, capture feedback, and get smarter with the seasonal products we offer.” Additionally, it “lets [them] test-drive certain ingredients and see what people are ordering over and over again, as well as not coming back for.” With over 1 million users, that is some big data for a small(ish) salad chain.