Auntie Anne's: A hot new franchise food opportunity

A global US brand that spans 12 countries, Auntie Anne's is seeking to revolutionise the snack industry in the UK with its healthier option pretzels. Stuart Anderson interviews the principals behind this exciting opportunity and its first franchisee

With eight established locations in the UK bringing its unique snack concept to the local palate, pretzel retailer Auntie Anne's is aiming to replicate in this country its success in the USA, where its has become the most prominent pretzel brand with in excess of 900 locations trading. The brand was launched in the UK under a joint venture deal in 2003 before the Master Franchise was bought by Robert Burton, his son Max and other shareholders in April last year. With four company-owned operations in place, and two franchisees (one a multi-unit franchisee), Auntie Anne's is now implementing a national franchise expansion programme.

'The opportunity in the UK is enormous,' remarks Robert, who serves as Managing Director in the UK. 'The world is moving toward healthier foods and our core products of freshly baked hand-rolled soft pretzels in a range of sweet and savoury flavours are a much healthier and more delicious option. A pretzel could be described as a cross between a doughnut and a bagel, but containing no trans fats and no salt in the dough mix, and its appeal allows our stores to build up continual repeat trade with families, workers on lunch breaks and students. As we bake on site, our pretzels are fresher than all of our competitors.'

Robert brings tremendous franchise experience to Auntie Anne's, being responsible for taking the Thrifty Car Rental UK network nationwide from five franchisees to 80, when he sold it in April last year. 'My time operating the Thrifty Car Rental UK Master Franchise was very successful - I learned a lot about franchising and I love it,' he reflects. 'With Auntie Anne's we have the advantage of a product and business model that has been tried and tested in the USA on a national level, and also in the UK where we have developed a turnkey franchise package. Auntie Anne's franchisees benefit from full training provided in the USA, ongoing management support provided from our UK head office and a fully sourced supply chain including provision of the Auntie Anne's dough mix, which is unique and differentiates our taste.'

Auntie Anne's stores and kiosks sell 10 types of pretzel - five savoury and five sweet - which are freshly rolled and baked instore with a half hour freshness guarantee. 'We throw everything after 30 minutes,' reveals New Franchising Manager Max Burton. 'Our pretzels are easy to make, yield high margins and best of all they sell themselves - franchisees can drive business by getting out and offering samples which creates regular repeat business. In addition our stores sell freshly-made lemonade, coffees, ice creams, Pepsi products and bottled water, providing an ideal 'grab and go' snack solution in busy shopping centres, pedestrianised high streets and specialised locations such as airports, student campuses and service stations.'

The first Auntie Anne's franchisee to launch in the UK is Mahasti Poursalek, who has been operating her Cheltenham store for over two years. 'I was travelling in the USA with my husband when I first tried the product,' she recalls. 'It is fabulous and everybody who tries it, loves it. It isn't that well known as a snack in the UK, in fact it reminds me of where pizzas were 25 years ago - and look at how popular they are now!'

Mahasti's business turned over almost a quarter of a million in its first full year of trading, and she pinpoints the holiday periods as the busiest. 'Christmas time is fantastic - I took £10,000 in the week running up to Christmas,' she reveals. 'I am very happy with my decision to invest in an Auntie Anne's franchise and would love to open a second store if the right location comes up.'

The second Auntie Anne's franchisee to open is Jay Da Silva, who opened his first location in Croydon before taking over the company-owned outlets in Sutton and Wandsworth. With a third franchisee preparing to open in Sheffield, Auntie Anne's is seeking to revolutionise the pretzel in the UK by developing a national network. 'Our target is to launch six new franchisees this year, and maintain at a manageable rate of one new franchisee per month thereafter,' says Robert. 'Setting up and running our turnkey business is a straightforward process so we don't require previous food or retail experience, rather we are looking for prospective franchisees who will be committed to providing quality service. We would like franchisees to have a great attitude to business and we will train them with the skills they require.

'We are particularly targeting London and key UK cities, and through our property search agents GVA Grimley finding locations will not be a big challenge.'