Share this @internewscast.com
Charlie Morrison wants to democratize salad.
Right now, he doesn’t believe they’re as affordable, accessible or high quality enough to meet consumer demand.
To achieve this goal, he is pulling some of the same pages from his playbook at Wingstop
The move was a bit of a surprise for some industry insiders. Wingstop had become a case study during the pandemic, growing its same-store sales by double digits through 2020 and 2021 despite anxious consumers and government restrictions. Further, the company grew from about 500 locations to over 1,850 on Morrison’s watch, increased its digital sales mix to over 60% and expanded into several international markets.
Salad and Go isn’t quite that. At least, not yet. The company currently counts about 60 units, mostly in its home state of Arizona, as well as nearby Texas and Oklahoma.
Morrison, however, is confident he can translate some of Wingstop’s successes to the salad brand and, in fact, that’s exactly why he took the job after joining its board in 2020.
“The more I learned about it, the more I felt it had all the elements for efficient and scaled growth,” he said during a recent phone interview. “It had strong unit economics and a strong model. Much like Wingstop, the pieces were in place to replicate that story. My passion is being in the details and working closer to the business and taking on a brand that has the potential to grow.”
Coincidentally, Salad and Go was searching for a CEO. Morrison reflected a bit before throwing his hat into the ring, but believed the timing was right.
“Everything at Wingstop was going great and I felt I had done what I could to help build it into a powerhouse that will stand the test of time and continue growing for many years to come,” Morrison said. “I knew Michael (Wingstop CEO Michael Skipworth) was poised and ready to take over, so I took on the opportunity at Salad and Go.”
The salad concept has since tripled in size and Morrison said it should have about 90 stores by the end of this year and double that next year.
“In future years, I expect, near-term, getting to 1,000. Can we go bigger than that? Absolutely,” he said.
His confidence comes from a few places. First, health-conscious consumers are driving an increased demand for salads. According to Grand View Research, the packaged salad market is projected to grow by nearly 8% annually through 2028, for instance.
Additionally, Salad and Go is building a 110,000-square-foot food production facility in Dallas that will support about 400 units throughout Texas and contiguous markets. Though the facility is capital intensive for the company, Morrison said it will create more cost efficiencies for consumers.
“We’ve disrupted the supply chain approach. We know what fields our produce comes from and we bring it into our own production facilities we own and operate and then we self-distribute to stores,” he said. “Some brands build commissaries later and we decided to do that first. It allows us to pass savings back to the customer and we’re also able to manage the quality and safety of our food.”
Morrison said Salad and Go’s 40-ounce salads with protein are $6.24, while its 20-ounce beverages (also made in its production facilities) sell for $1.24. He reiterates these prices often because he believes it is a major piece of that initial goal to democratize salads.
“Salads have become so expensive, they’re only catering to people who can afford them. We want to change the game. Fast food doesn’t have to be cheap and bad. It can be healthy and high quality,” he said. “But it takes a disruption of the supply chain and that is what we’re doing.”
Salad and Go’s accessibility also comes from its real estate model. The company is building out 700-square-foot, double drive-thru restaurants. Some include a dedicated mobile order-ahead window. None include seating.
It also comes from a stronger focus on digital. The company’s current digital sales mix is about 18% now and Morrison just brought on a chief digital and technology officer to boost that number–again, similar to what he did at Wingstop.
That said, there are differences this time around. Morrison often discussed being in a “category of one” with Wingstop. With Salad and Go, that’s simply not the case. Several salad concepts, like Chopt, Tender Greens and sweetgreen, have grown along with demand, and there are a number of emerging concepts that are positioning themselves as healthier alternatives to legacy quick-service brands.
Morrison points back to Salad and Go’s price point and drive-thru model as differentiators.
“Our ingredients are also differentiators. We make our own beverages, including syrups. We steep our own cold brew. We make our own dressings. We don’t add anything to them. We turn our production around fast, so our romaine lettuce may have been in the ground four days ago,” he said. “We are going to dispel myths about salads not being affordable or easy or craveable.”
And even as Morrison pulls from his familiar playbook on the growth and digital side, that doesn’t mean he’s in a rush to get back to the public markets.
“I appreciate the opportunity that comes with being public and this concept has all the right elements to get there, including a solid product offering and consumer following, and a business model that is scalable,” he said. “But that’s way down the road. For now, we’re focused on growth.”