Dark kitchens, shipping containers, and Frosty carts — how Wendy’s plans to reach customers “anytime, anywhere”

Columbus Business First

COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–Drive-thru-only models, dark/delivery kitchens, units inside shipping containers, locations at fuel centers and universities and military bases, etc. – these are the outside the traditional box ideas the Dublin-based restaurant company will use to reach its goal of 8,000 units by 2025.

At 6,800 restaurants worldwide today, the company expects to pass the 7,000 unit mark this year.

Abigail Pringle, Wendy’s president of international and chief development officer, in a Wednesday media event, expanded on the company’s development strategies in the coming years.

She said the brand wants to reach its customers “anytime, anywhere” and as digital ordering capabilities expand, it’s freeing up the business to look at opportunities that aren’t the typical four-walled restaurant. Digital was 10% of Wendy’s sales in its fiscal first quarter.

In Guatemala, shipping containers have been converted into new Wendy’s. Drive-thru-only models are open in the Philippines and will be used in the United Kingdom.

Wendy’s first restaurant in the U.K., which will be a traditional unit, will open June 2 but some of the future locations will be drive-thru only.

Dark kitchens for delivery-only are in use in India, Canada, and in the U.S., though Pringle did not disclose where in the U.S. They give Wendy’s the potential to expand in major markets where traditional real estate isn’t practical.

Pringle said there are some dense cities where there’s a single Wendy’s for 135,000 people. Dark kitchens can improve that reach.

It’ll also explore more non-traditional sites at institutions like universities and military bases as well as travel/fuel centers, another trend fast-food operators are jumping on.

Wendy’s even is testing a Frosty cart at a Florida zoo where customers can get all manner of Frosty combinations and mix-ins.

Pringle noted that these trends all were happening prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the events of the past year have accelerated the rollout and acceptance.

CEO Todd Penegor, in a Wednesday call with stock analysts, said sales inside Wendy’s restaurants, which were about one-third of the company’s total pre-Covid, are only about 10% now, with 85% of dining rooms open. And even within that 10%, half of those are carryout orders so only about 5% of customers are eating inside Wendy’s right now further underlining the need for carryout and delivery choices.

Wendy’s reported its first-quarter results including a 12.5% increase in global sales for the brand to $2.9 billion in the quarter, $2.34 billion of which came from the U.S. Same restaurant sales rose 13% worldwide and 13.5% in the U.S.

Company revenue increased to $460.2 million in the quarter, up from $405 million in first-quarter 2020.

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