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“People crave convenience now more than ever” – Caribou Coffee’s Matthew Walls

Matthew Walls, Chief Development Officer at Caribou Coffee, discusses the US coffee chain’s next chapter of franchise expansion and why convenience, flexibility and store innovation will be crucial for the brand’s development at home and internationally

Matthew Walls joined Caribou Coffee as Chief Franchise Officer in 2022 and was appointed Chief Development Officer earlier this year | Photo credit: Caribou Coffee 

Founded in Minnesota in 1992, Caribou Coffee now operates more than 760 stores in 11 countries, including 470 outlets in the US, and has a strong presence in the Middle East.

A proud member of the Panera Brands group, Caribou has set its sights on a new chapter of franchise-led growth in the US and in April 2023 announced agreements for more than 300 new stores.
Spearheading the expansion is Matthew Walls, a franchise development expert with more than 20 years’ experience. Joining Caribou in 2022 as Chief Franchise Officer before stepping up to Chief Development Officer earlier this year, Walls speaks to World Coffee Portal about forging opportunities with multi-unit operators and why convenience matters more than ever to today’s consumers. 

What have been your key focuses since taking on the role of Chief Development Officer earlier this year? 

Through my role as Chief Franchise Officer and now as Caribou’s Chief Development Officer, I’ve helped play a pivotal role in developing and executing Caribou Coffee’s overall development strategy, both domestically and internationally.

I’ve had the privilege of working directly with our talented executive leadership team to push our franchise efforts and continue adding experienced multi-unit operators to our rapidly expanding system.

“People want flexibility and ease, which has led many chains to pivot their strategies”

I’ve also been focusing on building up a team to manage the growth and scale of our brand. We now have a global development structure at Caribou Coffee that brings our franchise, real estate, design and construction functions together.

By more closely aligning our franchisees and supporting functions, we hope to continue focusing our efforts and building synergies.
Caribou Coffee previously only franchised in international markets – what was behind the decision to franchise in the US? 
By leveraging our proven business model and our innovative concepts that have driven our expansion for the brand and we can attract new operators that align with our vision.

Through our domestic franchise programme we can tap into previously untouched markets and expand our brand presence like never before while partnering with experienced multi-unit operators who have a lot to bring to our company, further contributing to our overall continued growth.
Industry-leading innovations in restaurant design have helped position Caribou Coffee for nationwide expansion, including the 2019 roll-out of our trailblazing drive-thru-focused Caribou cabin prototype, which features a significantly smaller footprint designed to offer speed and convenience without sacrificing quality and service.
The chain has curated a strong brand awareness with its stores across the US as well as its omni-channel presence, which adds to our confidence as we continue to expand. We know that consumers love Caribou’s products and are sure they will resonate with our guests in new markets throughout the US.

A drive-thru and pick-up-focused Caribou Cabin store in the US | Photo credit: Caribou Coffee

Caribou’s franchise growth has recently focused on drive-thru and smaller format stores. What does this say about the US branded coffee shop market and why is there increased consumer demand for convenience? 
It is no secret that people crave convenience now more than ever. The pandemic certainly played a role in this shift, with consumers displaying a new desire and need to access their favourite products exactly when and how they would like.

People want flexibility and ease, which has led many chains to pivot their strategies and implement streamlined operations that increase convenience for guests.

“We’re fortunate to have great franchise partners in the Middle East”

This is especially true for the coffee segment, and the fact that Caribou Cabin locations, which feature drive-thru and are smaller format stores, became the forefront of success demonstrates our guests’ shifted preferences and lifestyles changes.
These cater to the increasing need for speed, efficiency, and on-the-go options in today's fast-paced society. As individuals seek convenience in their daily lives, coffee shops that offer a drive-thru and easy access to pick up orders align with these preferences, positioning themselves to capture a larger share of the market.
Many of the 300-plus planned franchise stores in the US are with existing Panera Bread franchisees. Is this a demonstration of business synergies within the Panera Brands group?
Panera Brands and Caribou share similar values, so it is natural for our franchisees to expand their portfolios under this family of brands. We are proud to be a part of Panera Brands, which serves to enable, amplify, and accelerate the product innovation and elevated guest experience that consumers have enjoyed for decades ­– all of which can aid in quicker growth and success.
Caribou Coffee has a strong presence across the Middle East. Which MENA markets are currently key performers and which markets have the most potential for growth? 
Yes, we’re fortunate to have great franchise partners in the Middle East who represent our brand in several markets that are growing rapidly. Kuwait is one of the most prolific countries for Caribou Coffee, with more than 70 stores and counting.
We are also very pleased to see how strong the brand is in Bahrain and the growth in Turkey. We see additional opportunities to grow the brand in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two quickly growing coffee markets.

Matthew Walls is Chief Development Officer at Caribou Coffee


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