Why You'll Soon See Cinnabon And Auntie Anne's Outside The Mall

Many of us remember the time when craving a bite of Cinnabon or Auntie Anne's meant heading to the closest mall food court to pick up one of their signature treats. But that may soon change, according to the snack chains' owner, Focus Brands. 

As Restaurant Business reports, Focus Brands appears to be looking to move away from the cinnamon roll-and-pretzel tandem's original retail and food court habitats in search of other — and potentially better — opportunities. This explains why Focus signed a deal with Auntie Anne's franchisee Fresh Dining to open ten stores in New York City.  Focus also entered an arrangement that saw it open Auntie Anne's first-ever drive-thru in partnership with Jamba in Texas.

Focus chief development officer Brian Krause says the latest moves to get Cinnabon and Auntie Anne's to spread their wings is neither novel nor new. "Cobranding has been around for many years at Focus, but primarily in the captive market/mall space. Where we're starting to lean in more, we continue to evolve the cobrand outside of those mall locations. That's where we're starting to see more of those open over the past couple of years."

The pandemic hurt Cinnabon and Auntie Anne's bottom line

Cinnabon and Auntie Anne's have a good reason for moving away from the retail malls that served them so well in the past. The coronavirus pandemic was a game-changer for the brands, because while takeout and delivery helped food and beverage brands survive social distancing, the pandemic and a freefall in mall foot traffic took a big dent out of both brands' bottom lines. Cinnabon's sales over its 900 locations across the country fell 29% in 2020, while sales at Auntie Anne's plummeted even further by 38% (via Restaurant Business).

Kendall Ware, chief brand officer for Cinnabon, admits that moving out of malls and onto the streets is a big deal. He says: "We know we're strong in malls and there are plenty more malls we can get into and continue to grow in, but we want to grow in non-traditional venues, food trucks, ghost kitchens, and whatever we can get our hands on. We want to open the doors to experience the brand in a way that has not been done before" (via Nation's Restaurant News).

A bounceback in mall traffic isn't enough for Cinnabon, Auntie Anne's

Focus Brands may be taking a risk in straying from the familiar, but refusing to venture beyond the mall ecosystem could end up costing them, too. 

While malls may have once been the hub of American life, for much of 2020 and 2021, that changed when the COVID-19 pandemic ruled and social distancing was being enforced. The country's mammoth shopping and entertainment complexes emptied out, and developers for properties like Mall of America found they were unable to meet mortgage payments (via Insider).

And even though retail appeared to have made something of a recovery towards the end of 2021 — some real estate companies even told The Wall Street Journal in December that they were seeing foot traffic above pre-2019 levels — that no longer appears to be enough for two brands that have become as synonymous with mall culture as cheap and cheerful food courts and fast fashions. Given the fickleness of the retail market, it will likely benefit both Cinnabon and Auntie Anne's to look for opportunities outside of the retail coop.