RANT & RAVE: Price Increases at Boloco

Over the past year we have been slowly rolling out changes to our ordering process and pricing. While many guests appreciate these changes, there are always those who don’t – often for good reasons. Since I’m personally not always appreciative of change or price increases myself, especially when it’s a company or product I love (or used to love prior to the changes!, I thought I’d share a bit of the “why” for those who care enough to read on. When we change anything, we lose some fans in the process. It’s painful, but after 20 years of being in this business I’ve learned its part of the journey.

Before I begin, I want to elaborate on a price increase I personally find astonishing – and yet one that I accept every time it happens. A tall Dark Roast Drip coffee at Starbucks now costs $2.25 and has been increasing by 10 cents a year for what seems like forever. I remember well when it was $1.25 for the same exact product. There is still no complex labor involved in pouring each incremental tall Dark Roast. A batch is made, and then dozens of cups are dispensed in a matter of 3-4 seconds each. Starbucks is making a TON of money off of the tall Dark Roast. And despite that, I get 2-3 cups a day.

I’m not sure where my breaking point is with Starbucks, but I suppose I have one. Sadly, Rose’s breaking point – the woman who tweeted the attached comment – has been reached. We’ve lost her, and that gets my attention. So does this comment (scroll to bottom of post) from long-time fan Ravi. And we’ve certainly lost others.

So here’s what went into this decision.

First, as many readers know, Boloco was almost out of business not longer than a year ago. From 2013-2016 we circled the abyss, as has been well documented here and here. One of the reasons we were short on profit not often discussed (because we had bigger burritos to roll) was that we had not kept pricing in line with our neighbors serving similar quality and responsibly-sourced food. More importantly, we pay our team members some of the highest wages in the horribly employee-unfriendly industry that is fast food, and while we accept the loss of profit as a consequence of that, we have found that those who know Boloco well appreciate that we care about the lives and futures of our workers as we do. Boloco is one of only a handful of restaurant chains in the country that is a certified B-Corporation. We are also no longer a standard “Corporation”, but instead what’s called a Benefit Corporation that is legally, as well as philosophically, committed to a triple bottom-line, including social justice, environmental impact, and of course responsible financial profit. The wages we pay our people are non-negotiable in our minds, and in fact still not high enough to help them achieve the futures that so many of the rest of us often take for granted. Boloco is happy to bear the brunt of those wages as we always have, but if our pricing is still below most of our competitors who don’t do the same for their peers, we hope that our most loyal fans might continue to support us as we get ourselves right-priced. For some it may not be an option, we understand, but for us lowering wages or reducing quality of our ingredients isn’t an option either.

Second, it’s important to consider that for many guests the pricing is actually better. Guacamole is no longer an extra charge (unless on the side), neither is all-white breast meat chicken, or steak, or any other ingredients. For one price, you can add anything you can fit into your bowl or burrito. It makes life much easier for everyone, no more nickel and diming, etc. The amount of guacamole we “sell” has doubled nearly immediately in every restaurant we’ve switched. We knew people loved guac, but this mob scene was unexpected. And by the way, speaking of increases, take a look at how Avocado prices have moved in the past few years.

Finally, we have always had one of the most generous loyalty programs out there. Someone even cited us as one of the best in the country years ago, and we aren’t less generous today than we were then. Just for signing up on the Boloco Passport, you get $5 for every $50 you spend, nearly a 10% discount. After 50 visits in any year, that moves to $7.50 for every $50 spent. For the truly dedicated, about 3,000 in number, after 150 visits in any year they get $10 for every $50 spent, nearly 20% off.

Our pricing is meant to be competitive when compared apples to apples. It’s usually cheaper than most of our fast “casual” siblings… though far more expensive than traditional fast food joints. I think most people expect that.

In all honesty, I’m personally scared to overcharge. I hate losing anyone.

The one thing that still weighs on me is the increase that pure vegetarians and vegans who do not choose guac have seen these past months. It’s not that the price is expensive versus our competitors, but the immediate increase was substantial, over 25% in some cases. If you fall into this category, please click here to see my thoughts on veggie pricing, but know that I’m constantly debating it still. Debating a decision already made, incidentally, is a “weakness” of mine, as a business person, I am told by many. Guilty as charged and no longer worried about it… so if you’re thinking that, I hear you 😉