Athletes understand the importance of quality, healthy food to fuel their bodies in order to compete and thrive, and one tennis superstar has teamed up with a fast-casual restaurant chain that shares the same winning values.
Sweetgreen announced its new partnership with tennis star Naomi Osaka exclusively to "Good Morning America," and Nathaniel Ru, co-founder and chief brand officer, explained why the four-time Grand Slam champion was a perfect match.
"Naomi represents not only a great tennis player, but so much beyond that. She stands up for what she believes in -- a lot of social justice issues -- and is really into speaking to this next generation in a way that still has humility and is connected to culture," Ru said. "She just really aligns with our values at Sweetgreen and is passionate about it."
Osaka is the company's first national athlete ambassador as well as Sweetgreen's youngest investor, and she hopes to use her role to change the way brands and athletes speak about the importance of what people eat.
The team first met the 23-year-old No. 2 ranked Japanese tennis star through mutual friends last year, and Ru said the now Los Angeles-based athlete is "a regular customer [who] comes in a few times a week to help fuel her for training."
As such, Osaka began the conversation with the company about how to work together "to shift the paradigm of food sponsorship and create a more positive impact on really how the next generation thinks about healthy eating."
"We've spent the last five months working together. We're putting her custom order on the Sweetgreen menu exclusively on our app on May 20," Ru shared, adding that Osaka and her older sister, Mari, spent a couple days in the Sweetgreen culinary lab test kitchen to perfect her regular order.
Osaka's bowl is made with warm quinoa, baby spinach, cilantro, tomato, tortilla chips, raw carrots, goat cheese, blackened chicken, lime-cilantro jalapeno vinaigrette, avocado and Sweetgreen hot sauce.
"She's passionate about food and cares about nutrition a lot, especially as it relates to her training," Ru said. "So a lot of it was very familiar to her and really kind of fun [to watch her] connect deeper with Sweetgreen inside the culinary lab and working with chefs -- it was a very collaborative process."
"I’m proud to join forces with Sweetgreen to change the way the world thinks of traditional fast-food sponsorships," Osaka said in a statement. "As an athlete, what I put into my body directly correlates to how I perform and eating delicious, healthy foods fuels my daily routine. I’m excited about the work we’re doing together to create a positive impact."
In celebration of their partnership, Sweetgreen and Osaka are jointly supporting The Asian American Foundation in its effort to advance equity, with 100% of sales from every Naomi Osaka Bowl on May 26 going to support AAPI-led organizations increasing food access in AAPI communities.
One of Sweetgreen's core values -- win, win, win -- sets out to ensure the customer, company and community all win, and Ru said that Osaka shared in that approach for this new partnership.
"Healthy eating shouldn't be very prescriptive, it should be an integrated part of your lifestyle, and I think that's what we really connected over," he added. "The collaboration with Naomi is meant to feel very light and connected to your lifestyle."
While this is Sweetgreen's first athlete-backed promotion, Ru said, "We want to use this platform going forward. It's how we connect to future athletes." He added that the brand will keep an eye out for future opportunities to connect with other like-minded pros when the time is right.