The Healthiest Fast Food Industry Options. We Promise We Won’t Say Subway

Written by: Parth Parth
Last Updated: July 1, 2022
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Over the last several years, American consumers have become increasingly aware of the ingredients in their food and have begun to demand healthier options. As a result, the “fresh” fast food industry has formed to provide these healthier food options without sacrificing convenience and affordability.



Founded in 2007, Sweetgreen is a pioneer in this new food industry 

However, it is important to note that Sweetgreen is not a franchise. As of November 2021, each Sweetgreen location is company-owned, and Sweetgreen does not plan on franchising in the near future. As opposed to other franchises marketing healthy food like Freshii, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, and Playa Bowls, Sweetgreen is able to maintain much tighter control of its supply chains and operations.

Sweetgreen began out of three Georgetown students’ dissatisfaction with their food options, which were either slow, expensive, and fresh or fast, cheap, and unhealthy. So, they decided to offer a third option where they could serve fresh food without sacrificing quality or convenience and opened the first Sweetgreen restaurant.

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Sweetgreen and steady business growth

A significant share of Sweetgreen’s 140 restaurants is located in urban areas like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington, D.C. They are especially concentrated in New York, which has represented about a third of Sweetgreen’s total revenue in each of the last two years.

As of November 2021, Sweetgreen has yet to make a profit. While the growth of new restaurants from 29 locations in 2014 to 140 locations in 2021 has led to a 523% increase in revenue, restaurant operating costs and corporate operating expenses have also skyrocketed.

While Sweetgreen has in many ways recovered from the impacts of COVID-19, they are still a growing company that has yet to make a profit. Their path to profitability will require them to continue scaling up and opening new locations, and they will also need to reduce the restaurant operating costs. Also, their ability to do so will depend in part on the extent to which labor and other costs return to pre-pandemic levels.

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In recent years, Chipotle has emerged as a beacon of “healthier” alternatives to fast food, serving Mexican dishes like burritos, tacos, salads, and bowls under a customizable, build-your-own plate model. Chipotle is labeled as a fast-casual restaurant — a blend of both the fast food and casual dining business model.

They are more upscale and refined than traditional fast food establishments such as Mcdonald’s but offer less seating and a more moderate prep time than casual dining. As the health and wellness movement grows in the U.S. and more consumers become increasingly aware of their diet, there is likely to be a bright future ahead for restaurants like Chipotle, which offers a choice for consumers who want the convenience of fast food but a healthier alternative.

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Chipotle's resounding success

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. popularly known as Chipotle, is an American chain of fast-casual restaurants in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, and France. They specialize in bowls, tacos, and Mission burritos that are made to order in front of the customer. The name derives from chipotle, the Nahuatl name for a smoked and dried jalapeño chili pepper.

Chipotle was founded by Steve Ells, who attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. In 1993, Ells founded the first Chipotle location in Denver, CO near the University of Denver, using an $85,000 loan from his father. Ells and his father calculated that the store would need to sell 107 burritos per day to be profitable. After a month, the restaurant was selling over 1,000 burritos a day.

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Playa Bowls

Playa Bowls Franchise offers a quick-serve restaurant featuring acai bowls, pitaya bowls, coconut bowls, chia pudding bowls, oatmeal bowls, smoothies, juices, and other healthy food options. Playa Bowls is “your slice of summer, anytime”. Also caters to events to bring the summer vibe to any occasion. There are currently 25 company-owned restaurants and 73 franchised-run locations.

The Playa Bowls concept is the vision of founders Robert Giuliani & Abby Taylor who are both Jersey Shore natives & long-time surfers. They were inspired by the ideas by chasing summer on surf trips to Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, California & Hawaii. Playa Bowls was founded in June of 2016 in New Jersey.

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An emerging market

In a 60/40 split, Playa Bowls co-founders Rob Giuliani and Abby Taylor received a majority investment from Tamarix Equity Partners and Pacific General Holdings. Giuliani will remain in his position as CEO and Taylor will remain as a chief marketing officer.

With this partnership, Playa Bowls is in the process of hiring key people to help grow the brand’s footprint on the West Coast and hopes to have 500 total stores by 2024.

Playa Bowls is in a new emerging market of healthy food options. However, this market is starting to grow in popularity with other companies such as Juice it Up, Jamba Juice, and Smoothie King capitalizing on the new wave of healthy eating and living.

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Smoothie King

Smoothie King Franchises Inc. (also known as Smoothie King) is an American smoothie company. Smoothie King franchise primarily sells custom blend smoothies and other related nutritional products in order to propel “active and healthy” lifestyles.

Smoothie King was founded in 1973 in Kenner, LA by Steve and Cindy Kuhnau. As of 2012, Smoothie King was still a privately held company. Wan Kim – a South Korean Smoothie King franchisee since 2002 – bought the company from Kuhnaus. Kim acquired US$58 million (equivalent to about $68M in 2021) from the Standard Charter Private Equity and the National Pension Fund to grow the company. To succeed in growing the company, Kim had several ideas for Smoothie King. He planned to open 800 new franchises and the company’s first 200 corporately-owned stores. Kim also planned to experiment with selling salads and wraps at these latter locations (in South Korea, they made over 20% of his revenue).

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A financially strong business model with great stability

Predominantly in the United States, Smoothie King also has locations in South Korea, the Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and previously had shops in Singapore (Smoothie King left the Singaporean market in 2016). In 2018, the company opened its 1001st store.

Smoothie King was ranked the #1 Juice Bar Franchise on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Annual Franchise 500 list through 2020, marking the 28th year the brand has occupied the top spot. The ranking is primarily based upon financial strength and stability, growth rate, and system size. They are also the #1 ranked Smoothie brand focused on health and fitness and currently have over 1,300+ stores with another 100+ opening in the next year.

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Panera Bread Company

Panera Bread Company is an American chain store of bakery-cafe fast-casual restaurants with over 2,000 locations, all of which are in the US and Canada. Its headquarters are in Sunset Hills, MO. During its final 20 years as a public company, from 1997 to 2017, it was the best-performing restaurant stock, delivering an 86-fold return to shareholders.

The company operates as Saint Louis Bread Company in the Greater St. Louis area, where it has over 100 locations where its offerings include bakery items, pasta, salads, sandwiches, soups, and specialty drinks. As of 2020, the menu also includes flatbread pizzas.


Paneras' versatility

Panera offers a wide array of pastries and baked goods, such as bagels, brownies, cookies, croissants, muffins, and scones. Along with Panera’s artisan breads, these are typically baked before dawn by an on-staff baker. Panera also has a regular menu for dine-in or takeout that includes flatbreads, pizzas, warm grain bowls, panini, pasta, side choices, and soups, as well as coffee, espresso drinks, iced drinks, lattes, lemonade, tea, and a lot more.

You might want to franchise one of these businesses or look for businesses in another industry. Have a look at VettedBiz and the Food and Beverage Industry.

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