Mr. Pretzels Chain Expands Beyond Malls in Canada Following Pandemic Challenges [Interview]

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Mr. Pretzels has been known over the years for its presence in shopping malls across the country.

But the brand is expanding into other areas as it builds its presence in Canada.

Carmine Di Fruscia, president of Mr. Pretzels in Canada, said the company currently has 80 locations, approaching 90 by the end of next year.

“What happened during COVID obviously every mall shut down, every province was a bit different to handle. That was a bit confusing. Quebec handled it one way, Ontario handled it another way, Alberta another. So we had to juggle all these things. At one point every single store was closed,” he said.

New Mr. Pretzel at CF Masonville Place (Image: Mr Pretzel)
Image: Mr. Pretzel

“But then we kind of bounced back. We took that opportunity to reinvent ourselves. We came out with a baking kit. People were going crazy baking at home. So we created this baking kit that we sell in our stores. Then our competitor from the U.S. decided to leave Canada and we ended up picking all their locations up except for one. 

“So during the time the malls were slowing re-opening and closing and re-opening, we were continuing to open stores. Still business as usual. When we re-opened a lot of our customers came back. So our sales year-to-date are up easily about 12 per cent, 15 per cent which is a good number to be in. We came up with a few different flavours on our product.”

Di Fruscia said the company has recently opened five stores across Canada – Quebec, Ontario, Vancouver and Alberta. 

“And we’ve seemed to have gone to different markets. We’ve opened up in the airports, in the University of Calgary and that’s new for us,” he said. “We’re opening up our second location in the airport of Montreal. We’re in international and now we’re going into the domestic side. These numbers are just incredible, breaking all records. 

“University of Calgary was our first. Now we’re talking to the University of Ottawa, looking to go into different markets. Our primary market is always the malls.”

Image: Mr. Pretzel
Image: Mr. Pretzel

Mr. Pretzels has been present in Canada since 2013 and today has more than 300 locations across 20 countries.

“One area we haven’t been able to penetrate for a long time, which we are now, is the Maritimes. That’s our focus right now. We’re going to open one to two stores in the Maritimes,” said Di Fruscia. “What’s happening now going forward is we still have two more stores to open this year.

“Next year we’re looking at another maybe seven or eight stores.”

Image: Mr. Pretzel
Mr. Pretzels at CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Di Fruscia said high traffic areas is a very important part of the business. 

“We prefer obviously the kiosk model but we’ve done a lot of in-lines that have been very successful. Our primary is kiosk. If that’s not available we look at a small in-line,” he said. 

All of the pretzel dough is freshly prepared throughout the day and hand rolled on site for people to feast their eyes on. 

The company’s founder is Luiz Penna.

Canada’s first location was opened in Place Vertu shopping centre in Montreal four years ago after Di Fruscia met the founder of Mr. Pretzels at that time.

In 2018, Di Fruscia had plans to bring Italian bag brand O bag to Canada with a goal of opening 50 stores over five years.

“That franchise didn’t go well. It didn’t survive COVID,” he said. “O bag is a brand from Italy and in COVID times they were not receiving any merchandise. I guess they were buying some products from China. The import/export was horrible, bringing product in. They ended up closing or filing for bankruptcy protection. We had no choice. We weren’t getting the inventory. We ended up closing the two stores that were open.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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