The TCBY frozen yogurt chain is planning a flagship store that will test a new fresh yogurt bar, as well as a new juice line.
TCBY parent company Famous Brands International is also designing a new flagship store for sister brand Mrs. Fields Cookies that will test a new chocolate beverage bar with hot and cold drinks, and more-relaxed café seating with soft couches and chairs.
Both new prototype units are scheduled to open in March in Broomfield, Colo., at the base of Famous Brands’ headquarters.
The flagship locations will also serve as research-and-development centers for the brands, and as training facilities for new franchisees.
Famous Brands chief executive Tim Casey said the primary goal is to use the new stores to test ongoing innovations before rolling out new ideas to franchisees.
“We really feel it’s our responsibility to always be working on and developing things for our franchise system,” Casey said.
Famous Brands was recapitalized last December in a deal that brought in private-equity firm Z Capital Partners as a majority owner, along with existing stakeholder The Carlyle Group.
Over the past few years, 31-year-old TCBY has been working to re-invent its brand in light of increasing competition from more contemporary frozen yogurt players, like Pinkberry, Red Mango and Yogurtland.
Last year, TCBY debuted a more healthful Super Fro-Yo line, as well as a new self-service prototype design, which is now used by about 125 locations among the 650-unit chain.
Earlier this year, TCBY was one of the first frozen yogurt players to add frozen Greek yogurt, which has been very successful, Casey said. The chain is working on new Greek yogurt flavors to debut next year.
“The frozen Greek yogurt has exceeded even our expectations, and we had high expectations,” he said. “We have invested heavily into the food science of our fro-yo, giving our R&D team the chance to distance itself from the category, and it’s paying dividends for our brand and our partners.”
The TCBY brand is also now in Walmart Superstores. The company has rolled out a line of branded licensed frozen yogurt products in pints, quarts and novelty bars, as well as a squeezable soft-serve yogurt pouch.
At the new flagship store, TCBY will test a fresh yogurt bar featuring both Greek and traditional yogurt, using a proprietary product featuring live and active cultures. Both plain and flavored options will be tested.
Guests will be able to add their own toppings, as they do at self-serve frozen yogurt locations, and pay by weight. The chain will also test the option of earlier hours, as many consumers prefer yogurt for.
“I believe there is always room to open for breakfast with that type of offering, but that’s the sort of thing we’re going to evaluate before bringing it to franchisees,” Casey said.
In addition, the company has developed a proprietary line of juices with a low glycemic index and fiber, though Casey declined to reveal details. Smoothies will also be an option, using the fresh yogurts.
“We know that consumers are looking for healthy juice offerings,” he said, noting that fresh yogurt and juices will be an attractive combination given growing interest in both as meal replacements.
Pinkberry began testing a non-frozen Greek yogurt offering earlier this year, opening some stores earlier for breakfast and adding coffee. The Greek yogurt is in about 20 of the chain’s 220 locations and will be rolled out nationally in March 2013.
Juice has also become more popular. Starbucks is growing the Evolution Fresh juice concept, and smoothie chains like Jamba Juice and Juice It Up! have expanded their fresh juice lines.
With work on TCBY underway, the company is planning to relaunch the Mrs. Fields brand next year.
The new flagship store, developed by Fitch Design Services, will feature the brand identity for Mrs. Fields going forward, which Casey described as a “bright, fun and high-energy look” that “celebrates the heritage of the brand, but in a contemporary way.”
Among new elements to be tested is a chocolate beverage bar that will expand on the specialty coffee line Mrs. Fields rolled out earlier this year.
“One area we’ve learned we can focus on is hot chocolate,” Casey said. “We have an ownership right to hot chocolate.”
The chocolate bar will also include cold chocolate milk and other drinks for kids that will play off the flavors of Mrs. Fields’ cookies. Casey said the chain will also use the store to test the addition of other new baked goods to prove them out before going out to the 337-unit chain’s franchisees.
The new flagship store will also have a retail center that will allow guests to buy gifts online. Casey said iPads or other technology may be tested so guests can sit and order Mrs. Fields-branded gifts while sipping hot chocolate and nibbling cookies, which Casey predicted would be popular during the holiday season.
The franchise option of a TCBY/Mrs. Fields co-branded unit will also be tested.
Casey said a franchisee in Chicago has several dual-branded locations open that are are doing well.
“He has found that putting the two brands together meets a full year of consumer needs,” with yogurt popular in summer and cookies and hot drinks for colder months.
Over the next two months, Famous Brands is also opening three company-owned Mrs. Fields kiosks in mall locations in San Diego to evaluate their potential for franchise growth.
The kiosks will have full baking capabilities and offer hot drinks, giving franchisees another lower-cost opportunity if they are proven out, he said.
Other than the flagship stores to come, Famous Brands doesn’t intend to grow company-owned locations, he noted.
“We want to maintain enough company-operated stores to make sure we have expertise to provide best-in-class coaching,” Casey said. “But our focus will be on franchising.”