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Even though Rita’s was lapping a record promotion from last year, in which it introduced its mobile-loyalty program through the Punchh app, business for the week of the promotion rose 30 percent compared with 2013, Moody said. He added that Rita’s saw 18,000 new downloads of its loyalty app and reported 170,000 redemptions of a free “punch” when guests came to the stores for a free Italian ice.

“It was a great program again this year,” Moody said. “It was the first time we’ve done First Day of Spring in new markets like California and Utah. Last year we introduced the app and rewards program, and this year we introduced a new branded flavor, Starburst Cherry.”

Rita's is kicking off spring with a new branded flavor, Starburst CherryRita’s also repeated the Instagram photo contest for First Day of Spring, and more than 4,000 pictures of guests with their free Italian ice treats were uploaded, an increase of one-third compared with last year.

The chain plans to use the successful promotion week as a springboard into further planned menu development, such as the introduction of the Starburst Orange flavor on April 7 and an undisclosed new flavor set for May 7, which marks the brand’s 30th anniversary. Another promotion and flavor will debut on the first day of summer as well.

“We got off to a relatively slower start this year, because two-thirds of our stores are seasonal [and closed in winter],” Moody said. “That percentage is decreasing as we add stores in California, Arizona and Nevada, but the majority of stores are still in the Northeast. … We saw a slow build, but then with the advent of First Day of Spring, things are taking off for us.”

For near-term growth, an area developer will open his first unit in San Diego this month, with 70 more locations planned the next few years. More stores will open in Los Angeles County, Northern California, Minneapolis and Wichita, Kan., Moody said.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN