Guac Greens with Extra Blockchain, Please

Snapchat calls itself a camera company. Who’s to say that Sweetgreen can’t call itself a tech company?

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?

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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.

A closer look at the ways Ripe is working with different actors in the supply chain

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.

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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:

  1. Sweetgreen knows where to find its customers (on social media), something Melissa discussed the importance of on Wednesday.
  2. Sweetgreen knows how to respond to customer requests on those platforms, as evident by the new additions.
  3. 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.

SG 1

A look at Sweetgreen’s latest version of the 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.

5 comments

  1. Very cool article! Its really funny now that we as business people will have to view a company’s tech strategy as basically an extension of their normal business strategy, even when we wouldn’t normally associate that business with technology!

    I think your discussion of Sweet Green’s use of blockchain is cool. Its one of those things I think they are really wise to do, as it will help prevent any fiascos that have stuck other major food brands (See no further than Chipotle).

    Also their mobile app looks super well made and should really bolster their user experience. I was somewhat surprised as to how many orders they think they will process online as opposed to in store. I feel like a lot of restaurants don’t do this and really sets Sweetgreen apart as a digitally mature company in todays business landscape.

  2. Molly Pighini · ·

    Awesome post, Lucy. As a Sweetgreen lover myself, I was waiting for someone to blog or tweet about this company. Their extensive use of technology is impressive and unique but also seemingly natural. In recent years, Sweetgreen has eliminated all cash registers in its stores. Customers must pay with a credit card or the app. While I was a bit shocked by this (and initially a bit perturbed), it has now become second nature. It feels appropriate for the chain and its innovative nature. Company officials claim the decision was made for three reasons that seem to align with the mission. First of all, the company has created a safer environment for its workers and customers. Without cash on hand, there is less incentive to rob or break into stores. Secondly, the company achieves a higher level of cleanliness or hygiene. Continuously passed from hand to hand, money is notoriously dirty. As Sweetgreen employees move from register work to salad production throughout shifts, it is logical that a company devoted to cleanliness/transparency would strive to reduce contamination in this way. Lastly, this transition has allowed Sweetgreen to serve its customers faster. Rather than waiting for customers to fumble through their wallets for just the right amount and taking the time to count and distribute it appropriately in the register, Sweetgreen employees can simply swipe and serve. They can spend more time interacting with the customer in a service capacity and get to the next customer sooner. This rationale could surely be applied to other companies in the fast-casual dining sphere and seems to be the way of the future.

  3. I think Sweetgreen has been able to successfully benefit from social media and emerging technologies because its clientele is so involved on the various platforms. Their business model caters to the young professional who is health conscious and active on social media, which I think it was made their social media infused menu so successful.

    I really liked the way that you incorporated Sweetgreen’s use of blockchain into your post. Given the amount of attention that bitcoin gets, myself and a lot of other people automatically link bitcoin with blockchain and vice versa. If the ripeness of tomatoes can be tracked using blockchain by a smaller business, imagine how this technology could be used by a larger corporation in the food industry like Subway or Panera! Really cool post!

  4. Awesome blog! I think as @mollypighini1 discusses a lot of Sweetgreen’s digital success relates to their ability to connect their efforts with their mission. This gives employees and customers a clear view of why and how they are implementing technology, and I think it makes customers more willing to share their data. I also think Sweetgreen is a great example of a new company integrating technology into their fabric from the very beginning. New startups and companies are not waiting to implement technology until they are up and running – they are incorporating it into every part of their company. I think existing companies must start to integrate technology ASAP or they will be overtaken by these startups, and that startups must take this technology seriously if they are to have long-term success.

  5. I enjoyed this post and it aligns nicely with @murphycobc‘s post this week on Domino’s. Tech and digital is just a part of life today and anyone selling to consumers needs to invest in tech to reach its customers. What will differentiate the success stories is using tech in new and innovative ways, like Sweetgreen and Domino’s.
    It’s crazy to me that Sweetgreen will get 50% of their orders through the app. The only way I can make sense of this is if most of Sweetgreen’s business comes from working professionals on lunch break, and these people are ordering from the office to skip the line. But Chipotle targets a similar customer and experiences similar long lines, and I just looked up an article from last year that says Chipotle only gets 8.5% of its orders through the app. So Sweetgreen is obviously doing something right.

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