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GoTo Foods Readies New Co-Branded Prototype

Cinnabon Swirl, which combines Cinnabon’s baked goods with Carvel’s ice cream, is scheduled to open later this year.

HT caught up with Kristen Hartman, President, Specialty Brands at GoTo Foods, to learn about the company’s new co-branded prototype.

Later this year GoTo Foods will introduce its Cinnabon Swirl restaurant concept that will completely integrate the Carvel brand with the Cinnabon brands.

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GoTo Foods Kristen H
Kristen Hartman, President, Specialty Brands at GoTo Foods

“This is a new store design that brings [to market] the best of these brands,” explained Kristen Hartman, President, Specialty Brands at GoTo Foods. “The signage on the outside of the building features Cinnabon’s trademark swirl. The location will feature the classics from both brands – Cinnabon’s cinnamon rolls and Carvel’s ice creams,” she explained.

GoTo Foods, previously known as Focus Brands, has more than 10 years’ experience operating co-branded locations. The restaurant operator has more than 580 co-branded sites open and is on track to add 40 new locations in 2024. 

In fact, GoTo Foods sees co-branded locations as “a major growth vehicle,” Hartman said.

Tasty Goodness

Currently there are two Cinnabon Swirl locations that are on schedule to open before the end of the year: a street-side location in Oregon and a mall location in Hawaii. 

“We originally conceived Cinnabon Swirl as a street-side location because we wanted to be a community gathering place where friends and family can come and experience the ultimate treat destination. But we've got this fantastic franchisee who has a lot of locations across our portfolio, and he has locations in Hawaii and found a location that he knew would be really successful,” she explained.

Carvel holder
Later this year GoTo Foods will introduce its Cinnabon Swirl restaurant concept that will completely integrate the Carvel brand with the Cinnabon brands.

Menu Matters

In addition to their signature items, the Cinnabon Swirl menu will include some unique hybrid creations. “We're bringing the menus together through unique innovation that's not available anywhere else,” Hartman said. 

Highlights include Bonini, a Cinnabon classic roll with Carvel vanilla soft serve in a warm-pressed treat; Cinnabon Swirl Sundae has center swirls of a warm Cinnabon classic roll chopped and topped with Carvel vanilla soft serve and a caramel drizzle; and Ice Cream Sandwiches in a variety of flavors.

Plus, “there's so much innovation you can do with flavors in ice cream,” Hartman added. “Your possibilities are endless from an innovation standpoint, when you bring these two brands together.”

Looking Back on Co-Branding

Hartman has been with the company for 10 years, so she’s seen the evolution of the co-branded concept. She began her career as head of marketing for Cinnabon, moving into a variety of other roles and then to brand president. “When we moved to our new structure, that's when I became category president overseeing our fantastic specialty brands,” she said.

Co-branded locations have evolved over the years. “Back in the day, you would just take two individual locations and put them in one space, but they were largely independent locations. Sometimes consumers found that to be an advantage just because they like the convenience of having two brands in one space, but other times it was a little bit curious for consumers as to why those two brands came together.”

“We called it ‘two doors, two stores,’ so a consumer would walk into one side of the space and there would be their Jamba and then on the other side would be Auntie Anne’s. They were very independent. It wasn't offering consumers the kind of ultimate convenience that they were looking for, which was to be able to pick and choose between two brands that they loved in one transaction. From a consumer standpoint, there was the complication of going over to another line to order a different menu item. And then from the crew standpoint and from the franchisee standpoint, it was not optimized for them either, because you had to have the team that supported each of the brands individually,” Hartman recalled.

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One Team

With today’s integrated operating model, one team is trained on both brands – a bottom-line booster to franchisees. “Because you have one integrated team instead of two separate teams, it improves the economics for the franchisee,” she said. 

GoTo has turned away from inefficient operations and segmented tech solutions. 

“Many consumers want to walk in, but others want to be able to either order ahead for pick up or order for delivery,” Hartman explained. “We're enabling that for every single one of our brands and then in our co-branded locations,” she explained.

It’s Complicated

Each brand has its own brand and website; for integrated co-branded locations, the digital ordering experience also needs to be seamlessly dovetailed. It’s a project the GoTo Foods team has been working on for the last year, which coincides with the ongoing rollout of a new, single POS system across the enterprise. When you put the two brands together, consumers need to be able to easily order from both brands, Hartman said.  

For example, if there’s an Auntie Anne’s co-branded with a Cinnabon, guests can order Auntie Anne’s items and Cinnabon items all from either of the brand’s mobile apps based on the location selected.  If the Auntie Anne’s location is co-branded, the guest will see both brands’ menus on the mobile app or website. 

“As more and more happens from a digital standpoint, we're also building out our e-commerce capabilities… to be able to use data science to understand what is the right level of customization and personalization,” Hartman said.

“Pulling all the data together, across seven brands into one data platform and then using that data to really optimize both the experience as well as sales for our franchisees, it's a big undertaking.”

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