Revised and updated June 25, 2020.
Franchise Chatter presents lists of the best franchise opportunities in many different categories, but there are always a number of great concepts that don’t fit neatly into the franchise segments we’ve defined. In this list, we’ll cover the top 10 miscellaneous food/beverage franchises of 2020.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has wreaked havoc in the restaurant industry. All across the nations, restaurants had to close their doors to indoor dining altogether. Those who could remain open were able to continue takeout and curbside pickup during the stay-at-home orders put in place in many states.
As the economy begins to open back up, restaurants in many places are now able to resume something closer to normal operations, although most still face restrictions as to how much of their indoor seating capacity they are allowed to fill in order to maintain social distancing, such as tables being six feet apart. The good news for this list is that many of the concepts do not depend primarily upon indoor service.
The franchises presented here include a diverse range of concepts, from drinking water and ice to flavored popcorn, jerky snacks, edible fruit bouquets, pre-cooked ham and meats, spices and tea, nuts, frozen treats, and more. In short, there’s something here for everyone, and because the concepts are unique, there will be fewer competitors trying to do the same thing.
Entrepreneurs looking for something different in the food and beverage segment will want to take a closer look at this list of the 10 best miscellaneous food/beverage franchises of 2020:
1. Watermill Express
Watermill Express was founded based on the realization that the tap water available for drinking isn’t always as safe as people might hope it would be. This franchise takes water from state and federally approved sources and makes it better by running it through the company’s proprietary water purification system that includes micro filters, ion-exchange, ultraviolet rays, and reverse osmosis. Consumers use their own reusable containers to get water (and ice from some locations) at the chain’s 24/7 drive-up kiosks. No need to purchase bottled water when you have a Watermill Express nearby.
Founded by Lani and Don Dolifka in 1984 and franchising since 1989, the number of locations has declined slightly in recent years from 1,311 in 2012 to the current total 1,266, of which 953 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
Edible (previously known as Edible Arrangements) came up with an idea people love: fresh fruits sculpted to look like flowers and arranged in bouquets. The diverse arrangements available have become a mainstay at many meetings, events, and special occasion celebrations. Locations now also include a range of grab-n-go items customers can enjoy, including personal-sized fresh fruit salads, fruit parfaits, chocolate-dipped fruit, Edible Pops, fresh fruit smoothies, and Froyo Fruit Blend (in select locations).
Founded by Tariq Farid in East Haven, Connecticut in 1999 and franchising since 2000, the number of locations has begun to decline slightly from a high of 1,253 in 2016 to the current total of 1,127, of which two are company-owned and 69 are located outside the US.
3. HoneyBaked Ham
HoneyBaked Ham is a concept many a family has come to love for all kinds of special occasion meals. The company has truly perfected its slow-smoke cooking process along with its long-held glazing recipe that remains a well-guarded secret. The end result is what many believe to be the best bone-in smoked ham available anywhere, which can be served up cold or reheated to serve hot.
Franchise options include a focus on catering or the inclusion of a small café. Other meats offered include smoked and roasted turkey breast, fully-cooked whole turkeys, pot roast, beef, steak, bacon, and ribs. Additional offerings include starters, sides, and desserts (cakes and pies).
Founded by Harry J. Hoenselaar in Detroit, Michigan in 1957 and franchising since 1998, the number of locations has declined slightly in recent years from a high of 432 in 2012 to the current total of 415, of which 201 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
4. Reis & Irvy’s
Reis & Irvy’s bills itself as “The Future of Frozen Yogurt.” Why? Because customers use a touchscreen to choose the flavors and toppings they desire, and then their order is assembled in less than a minute by…robots! Customers can choose frozen yogurt, ice cream, gelato, or sorbet in a variety of flavors, then top it off with chocolate sprinkles, rainbow sprinkles, Fruity Pebbles cereal, peanuts, M&Ms, and Reese’s Pieces.
These soft-serve vending robots are typically found in high-traffic areas such as malls, airports, stadiums, museums, universities, and hospitals. These are essentially self-contained self-serve kiosks, so no customer-facing staffing required!
Founded in 2016 and franchising since then, the number of locations has remarkably leaped up to a current total of 344, of which 29 are company-owned and 17 are located outside the US.
IceBorn is disrupting the packaged ice market. The typical bag of ice you pick up at supermarkets and convenience stores has been handled by an average of 10 different people as it gets made, packaged, and distributed. IceBorn has instead taken the concept of an ice machine and turned it into a 24/7 self-serve kiosk for bagged ice. The water is drawn from approved local sources, then improved through each machine’s internal filtration process.
The only time the ice is handled is when the customer is buying it. This approach drastically reduces the ecological footprint of ice distribution. Franchisees monitor machine operations remotely by smartphone or computer.
Founded in 2003 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations has remained the same as the previous year’s total of 173, of which 104 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
6. Beef Jerky Outlet
Beef Jerky Outlet capitalizes on the surprisingly big niche market of jerky and other meat snacks, a market now worth more than $2.8 billion. Each location carries at least 200 different kinds of jerky thanks to its many different flavor profiles applied to an eye-popping range of meats that includes beef, turkey, pork, buffalo, elk, venison, antelope, kangaroo, alligator, ostrich, salmon, alpaca, bison, and even wild boar.
Founded by Paul Lyons in 1995 and franchising since 2010, the number of locations has grown in recent years from only five in 2010 to the current total of 101 (down by five from the previous year’s total), of which six are company-owned and all are located in the US.
7. Doc Popcorn
Doc Popcorn takes the humble and beloved whole-grain snack food of popcorn and turbo-boosts it with all kinds proprietary flavor blends, all without trans fats, MSG, artificial colors, or preservatives, which is something that cannot be said of most store-bought popcorn snacks. Popular flavors include Better Butter, Apple Crisp, Simple Pop, Cheesy Cheddar, and Caramel Bliss. More creative flavor offerings include Confetti Popcorn, Cheese ‘n’ Caramel, Denver Mix, Hoppin’ Jalapeño, Klassic Kettle, and Dill Pickle.
This is a franchise concept that works well in high-traffic areas such as malls, stadiums, entertainment venues, theme parks, transportation hubs, and so on.
Founded by husband-and-wife team Rob and Renee Israel in Boulder, Colorado in 2003 and franchising since 2009, the number of locations currently stands at 95 (down by one from the previous year’s total), none of which are company-owned and 12 of which are located outside the US.
8. Totally Nutz
Totally Nutz is a simple but highly effective concept: gourmet roasted, cinnamon glazed nuts (cashews, pecans, almonds). As the company slogan says, they’re “so good they’ll drive you crazy!” The idea with this franchise is showing up at events such as sports competitions, fairs and carnivals, parades. As such this is a mobile concept with three different options including a 9-foot traveler cart, an 8-foot event cart, or a 10×10 kiosk planted in a permanent location but with the flexibility of detaching the front counter/cart to serve outdoor events as well.
Founded by Matt and Yvette Barker in 1990 but only franchising since 2014, the number of locations rocketed upward recently from only 35 in 2018 to the current total of 90, of which 13 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
9. The Spice & Tea Exchange
The Spice & Tea Exchange has styled each of its locations to make it feel like you’re stepping back in time to a trading post typical to the 1700s. What customers peruse includes a selection of more than 30 different exotic teas, more than 140 spices, 80 different hand-mixed seasoning blends, 16 different naturally-flavored sugars, and a selection of salts from all over the world.
Founded in St. Augustine, Florida in 2008 and franchising since that same year, the number of locations has marched steadily upward in recent years from 23 in 2011 to the current total of 67 (up by 7 from the previous year’s total), only one of which is company-owned and all are located in the US.
10. Happy & Healthy Products
Happy & Healthy Products is all about providing people with delicious snacks and treats that are also healthy, such as Fruitfull Frozen Fruit Bars made from non-GMO fruit, Happy Indulgence Decadent Dips (six different flavored bars dipped in chocolate), quick bread snacks, and a variety of other fruit, nuts, and other snack items. Franchisees act as wholesalers who develop relationships with buyers such as hospitals, corporate cafeterias, colleges, convenience stores, and so on.
Founded by Linda Kerr Kamm in 1991 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations has declined sharply in recent years from a high of 63 in 2014 to the current total of 37 (down by 10 from the previous year’s total), none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.