Sweetgreen's Sweet Spot How were three guys with a salad joint able to hire the Strokes?

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“A music festival with hip bands is going to contribute to a brand’s image,” Batra says.

In some ways, the income and age gulf between the Sweetlife Festival crowd and Sweetgreen’s customer base was a mistake, says Neman. When deciding the lineup, the three went through their iPods and chose their favorite bands, he says. “I think Girl Talk brought a young crowd,” says Neman. “We didn’t realize it when were booking it so much.”

But like many Sweetgreen mistakes, it was probably a lucky one. It doesn’t matter that many Sweetgreen customers have never heard of Lupe Fiasco—they sense he is cool, and eating at a restaurant that books him makes them feel a little cooler themselves.

It’s the Sweetgreen sweet spot: A young, hip image, and an older, richer clientele.

In the long run, Neman says, he wants that sweet spot to expand beyond salads—with to-be-determined new goods and services filling the space. In an interview, he throws around lingo that even the best-compensated rock festival performer would never talk about onstage: “Sweetlife is the lifestyle surrounding Sweetgreen,” he says. “We’d like to get into fitness, apparel, anything that falls under a healthy, balanced, and fun lifestyle.” The festival, he says, was just the best way to introduce the world to that lifestyle. The Strokes may have helped sell yogurt this summer, but they could be selling yoga pants within a few years.

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Batra, though, says extending a brand into new industries can be tricky. For example, Clorox’s attempt to launch a detergent brand fell flat, perhaps because consumers worried it would bleach out their clothes. Brands with more generic associations diversify more easily. Names like Ralph Lauren or Martha Stewart can be applied to clothes, paints, dishes—almost anything, Batra says.

“Lifestyle brands aren’t locking themselves into one niche,” he says. “They can go wherever the business is.”

Which is good news for the Sweetgreen guys, because you’d be hard pressed to think of a term more pliant than “Sweetlife.”

“The Sweetlife is whatever you want it to be,” Neman says.


Sweetgreen headquarters, just north of Dupont Circle, does a pretty good impression of a Silicon Valley startup, circa just before the tech bubble burst. A ping-pong table stands in for a conference table. A nearby whiteboard records win-loss records for the dozen or so central office staffers. Over the historic fireplace is a large flat-screen TV attached to a MacBook. On display: The seasonal salad for June, a green beans and goat cheese number. Like every MacBook in the office, this one has a Sweetgreen sticker over the glowing apple.

Scattered around the room, for no apparent reason, are musical instruments: a dingy white Yamaha keyboard, a turntable, two guitars. On a windowsill, there’s stack of Nintendo Wii games.

On a Thursday morning last month, Jammet, a short guy with a shaved head who uses the word “sweet” with alarming frequency, is sitting at the ping-pong table chatting with Andrea Northup, the coordinator of D.C. Farm to School, a local nonprofit that brings local food to school cafeterias. Northup has about a foot on Jammet, who is the only Sweetgreen founder who looks old enough to own a multi-million-dollar business.

“Do you wear that shirt everyday?” asks Northup, pointing to Jammet’s Sweetgreen T-shirt, which he’s layered underneath a button-down work shirt. “Pretty much,” says Jammet, good-naturedly. In fact, Neman and Ru wear the same outfit nearly every day, too. They also sport Converse sneakers and silicon Sweetgreen bracelets, “Livestrong”-style.

Today, Northup has come to Sweetgreen to help Jammet plan the “Sweetgreen in the Schools” program, which teaches kids about healthy eating. “Can our staff and interns have VIP free salad cards?” she asks, and then tacks on a request for a metal Sweetgreen canteen. Jammet happily hands over the canteen and promises to look into the free salad cards.

Northup and Jammet get down to the business of planning out the program. Among the class activities the salad chain will sponsor: “Eat the Rainbow,” which will get children brainstorming names of fruits and vegetables and then writing them on a color wheel. An intern scribbles notes in a Sweetgreen Moleskin-style notebook.

A discussion ensues about where to run the summer-school curriculum; Northup suggests working with a school that already has a strong healthy-eating program. Jammet, however, says he wants a challenge. “Let’s pick out a high-needs school,” he says. In the end, they pick Brookland Education Campus and Anacostia’s Savoy Elementary School. In the meantime, Jammet suggests giving out coupons for free salads and then sending the Sweetflow mobile truck to the school. That way, the kids would take their salads home—where parents would presumably be inspired to make delicious salads of their own. According to Northup, parents often send their children to her farm and ask them to bring home mustard greens, but they never seem to want lettuce or tomatoes. “It’s like they don’t know what to do with it,” she says.

Our Readers Say

Nemo you are amazing! Love SweetGreen!
I work for one of the companies that were roped into being sponsors of "the Sweetlife Festival" and let me tell you - it was greenwashing at it's worst.

The organizers of Sweetlife were a bunch of pushy hired marketing suits who were hellbent on micro-managing the festival (which was lame at best) from start to finish.

Big brands with mega-marketing budgets like Stonyfield (Dannon) and Honest Tea (CocoCola)were roped into footing the bill Sweetgreed's self promotion circle jerk for the privilege of looking cool and edgy, while non-profits with minimal budgets were left holding the bag (of rotten strawberries) when they quickly learned that no one at the concert gave a crap about sustainable food, they were just there to drink beer and see the Stokes (at $50 per ticket, and how much for the pathetic VIP package?!).

It's no surprise to read that months later Sweetgreed still hasn't cut a check for D.C. Farm to School. Funny, their books seemed to be in order when they were cashing sponsorship checks...
Hi Anon,

While Sweetlife festival wasn't up to your expectations, I do want to say that Sweetgreen has been a good partner to the D.C. Farm to School Network. Unfortunately, the article misconstrues our meeting a little bit. Yes, I am a foot taller than Nic. But I only asked for a sweetgreen gift card after going through how excited my colleague and I are to put in many, many hours of work to perfect the curriculum and educational materials for the Sweetgreen in Schools program.

Since that's cleared up, I'll add that sweetgreen has also donated delicious food for our programs, thousands of stickers for our Strawberries & Salad Greens event, and a "mock salad bar" for a school food service training (among other things). Nic has been nothing but great to work with, and look forward to more partnerships with sweetgreen in the future.

We're still waiting for that final check though, but us non-profits are pretty patient ;)
anon,

"the priveledge of looking cool" is what marketing is all about, and it's why brands pay for the priveledge of being on display in front of their target demographics
And another thing to clear up - we already did get two checks from sponsors at the festival (totaling $2,400, which is no small change in this line of work) and I hear the final one from sweetgreen is on its way.
can we talk about how good that choco-novo Honest Tea stuff is? bangin'.
rain was sucky, but all the trustafarians love feeling like they're at woodstock
I'm curious why if DC Farm to School's mission is to spread healthy eating awarenesss, etc, why was their first choice to go to a school that already has a successful program of that ilk?

I'm all for health food and charity, but these people sound utterly insufferable. If the "sweet life" is talking about how honest and simple you are while paying $6.35 for a salad in your $100 designer yoga pants, I'll pass.
These guys are all amazing! Easy on the hateraide Anon. I can't wait for next year!
Dear HGB,

That quote was taken a little out of context - I suggested that Sweetgreen in Schools work with Marie Reed Elementary School (http://profiles.dcps.dc.gov/Marie+Reed+Elementary+School) which has 89% of students eligible for free and reduced price meals and 59% ESL students. This is because I know some of the folks at Kid Power, who run their after-school program. But because Kid Power already does a wonderful "veggie time" program with the kids their around nutrition and healthy eating, we decided to choose another school that didn't have nutrition education programming in place. Check out our website - you'll see that we work with all sorts of schools (www.dcfarmtoschool.org).
I just want to thank Sweetgreen for bringing The Strokes back into town - I have been waiting since 2006 to see them in this area and they didn't disappoint. Even Julian said that it was the best crowd they'd played to so far in their tour - and he seriously NEVER says that. I was there in line at 7am and I don't regret it at all.
Who is on the lineup for next year?!?! Let's make this an annual event!!!

It was a great experience and with any festival, improvements are needed and made on an annual basis. Next time they need to plan a bit better with regard to edible inventory, but a festival like this will always be well received by a true fan.

Sweetlife 2012 Lineup:

The Strokes
The Arcade Fire
Daft Punk
Deadmau5

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