This Disappearing Trend Among Fast-Food Restaurants May Be Making a Major Comeback

In the early 2000s, it was easy to find co-branded restaurants all over America. They stood out on suburban street corners, anchored food courts in malls, and greeted airline passengers across American airports. The most common examples of co-branded fast-food restaurants included Auntie Anne's and Cinnabon, Carl's Jr. and Green Burrito, Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin', and of course, maybe the most iconic pairing of Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. In fact, on occasion, you could even find a Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC all housed under one roof, as all three chains belong to parent company Yum! Brands.

Just two decades later, the co-branded fast-food phenomenon is much harder to come by. Many co-branded locations began closing and fewer opened, with customer preference for stand-alone locations clear and with many chains pruning unprofitable restaurants from their portfolios. Pizza Hut closed hundreds of locations in the past few years, for example.

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But co-branded fast-food restaurants could be making a coming back, according to QSR Magazine. One example illustrating that co-branding can still boost sales for both brands involved is the recent pairing of Saladworks and Frutta Bowls. The two chains are owned by the same company and have been operating under a single roof in a few locations—one of which saw its sales increase by 50% thanks to the new setup. The pairing has led to so much success that Kelly Roddy, the CEO of parent company WOWorks, said all future locations of Saladworks may be co-branded on a permanent basis.

Other recent examples of successful co-branded restaurants include Fatburger and Buffalo's Café Express, which allowed the burger chain to begin enjoying increased sales of its chicken products, and the emergence of drive-thru co-branded Auntie Anne's and Jamba Juice locations. This resurgence of co-branded brick-and-mortar locations is taking place alongside another new but similar model that has risen during the pandemic: the ghost kitchen. The fast-food locations without dining rooms are shared by multiple brands, with customers able to order food from a slew of menus. The food is prepared and picked up or delivered from the same physical location.

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