Noodles & Co. in a ‘category of one’

by Monica Watrous
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ORLANDO, FLA. — A made-to-order menu with health-driven dishes and globally inspired fare has poised Noodles & Co. for success in the thriving fast-casual market.

With 380 restaurants in the United States and a long-term target of 2,500, the Broomfield, Colo.-based company said it considers itself “a category of one.” While burrito, burger and bakery-cafe concepts each have a handful of direct competitors, Noodles & Co. said it has none.

“Noodles & Co. is different and rare within the eating and drinking out marketplace because we don’t have a direct national competitor,” said Kevin Reddy, chief executive officer and chairman, during a Jan. 14 presentation at the Integrated Corporate Relations XChange in Orlando. “Because there’s not a lot of direct competitors, developers like having us in their center because they want to offer something slightly different and unique to their guests to hopefully draw them into their center versus the one across the street. So, it’s very compelling for us to have such unique positioning within the space.”

By offering ethnic flavors over a menu of pastas, soups, salads and sandwiches, the chain said it appeals to a variety of customers, with items that include macaroni and cheese, Japanese pan noodles and Thai hot pot.

“We offer healthy-to-indulge-in choices,” Mr. Reddy said. “And I’ll tell you, if you look at how the eating and drinking out space has evolved, today individuals want choice. You see that trend is growing they want to be able to fit their meal choices and their specific diets, to have control over that. And we offer a wide variety of dishes and short grains and long grains, gluten-free rice noodles.”

Fresh seasonal ingredients help drive product development, with limited-time offers designed around in-season produce, he added.

The company aims to enhance its core business by improving throughput at lunchtime and adding table service during the dinner day part.

“… one of the efficient components of the fast-casual model is you go through a line, you order, and you sit down,” Mr. Reddy said. “We are complementing that at dinner so that once folks are seated, we can touch that table, we can ask them if they’d like a second glass of beer or wine. We can approach them if they want to linger a little bit longer and offer them dessert or coffee or tea. And we are able to do that in an incredibly efficient model because we don’t take the initial order at the table. So folks can mingle, it’s very informal, it’s not high pressure, but it just ups the ante just a little bit in terms of hospitality and service. And far and away, the restaurants that we’re putting this in, the consumers responding, and we’re seeing positive results.”

The chain also has tested a catering program in select markets over the past year.

“It features our flavors, the opportunity to have salads or soups in that line, to have a line that might be Italian or Mediterranean, Asian dishes as well as American dishes,” Mr. Reddy said. “So great variety, great flavors, great presentation. … you know, a lot of folks are worried when their food leaves their dining experience or their four walls, how it’s going to perform. This has been really well thought out, and I think it’s going to be additive to the overall perception of the brand.”
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