Carl’s Jr. Revolutionizes Fast Food with New All-Natural Burger

December 15, 2014

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New All-Natural Burger features the first all-natural, no added hormones, no antibiotics, no steroids, grass-fed, free-range beef patty from a major fast food company

Today, Carl’s Jr.(R) announced the All-Natural Burger, featuring an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics or steroids. With the introduction of the All-Natural Burger, Carl’s Jr. is the first major fast-food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty on the menu. The All-Natural Burger will be available in participating Carl’s Jr. locations beginning Wednesday, Dec. 17 and features the charbroiled, all-natural beef patty topped with a slice of natural cheddar cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes, red onion, lettuce, bread-and-butter pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, all served on the brand’s signature Fresh Baked Buns.

The Carl’s Jr. All-Natural Burger features an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics or steroids. With the introduction of the All-Natural Burger, Carl’s Jr. is the first major fast-food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty on the menu.

“We’ve seen a growing demand for ‘cleaner,’ more natural food, particularly among Millennials, and we’re proud to be the first major fast food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty burger on our menu,” said Brad Haley, chief marketing officer of Carl’s Jr. “Millennials include our target of ‘Young Hungry Guys’ and they are much more concerned about what goes into their bodies than previous generations. The new All-Natural Burger was developed specifically with them in mind. It features grass-fed, free-range beef that’s raised with no antibiotics, no steroids and no added hormones. The charbroiled All-Natural Burger also has a slice of natural cheddar cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, bread-and-butter pickles, the classic trio of condiments – ketchup, mustard and mayo – and it’s all served on one of our Fresh Baked Buns that we bake fresh inside our restaurants every day. Whether you’re into more natural foods or not, it’s simply a damn good burger.”

“Greater awareness for health and wellness is driving the growth in healthful menu items, yet our research indicates that the majority of consumers still opt for more indulgent food,” said Darren Tristano, EVP of Technomic Inc. “The push and pull between healthfulness and indulgence makes an All-Natural Burger on-trend. All-natural products also have a ‘health halo’ impact and often help consumers feel confident that they are getting a product better for them and from a source they can feel good about.”

The new All-Natural Burger is available as a single all-natural beef burger for $4.69, as a double burger for $6.99, and may be ordered in a combo meal with fries and a drink. Guests may also substitute the all-natural patty on any burger on the menu for an additional charge. Prices may vary by location. For a limited time, visit carlsjr.com/coupons to download a coupon for $1 off any All-Natural Burger combo meal, valid at participating locations.

The new burger will be supported by an advertising campaign created by Los Angeles- and Amsterdam-based creative agency, 72andSunny. The first of two TV spots will begin airing on Dec. 29 with an additional commercial to debut Feb. 2015 during the super big football game many will be watching.


A Big Production

December 12, 2014

Legacy chains employ large-scale marketing stunts to generate long-term buzz.tim-hortons_2

This summer, Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons made quite the splash: The brand covered one of its Québec locations in blackout materials to promote its new dark roast coffee. Equipped with night-vision goggles, employees handed guests samples of the brew, and the action was all captured in two-minute videos, later posted on YouTube to the tune of 2.6 million–plus views.

Tim Hortons’ head marketer, Peter Nowlan, found the experience a big success for the chain. “The dark roast is Tim Hortons’ first new blend in the company’s 50-year history, and we wanted to put it to the ultimate test: allowing guests to try it in the dark, limiting their sense of sight, and enhancing their senses of taste and smell,” he says.

Large-scale marketing stunts like these are few and far between, but when a quick-service brand does employ them, consumers take note.

“Many brands, especially older legacy brands, have to work harder to stay relevant to a younger generation of less loyal customers constantly looking for what’s cool and what’s next,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. Whatever the expense to companies may be, the resulting public-relations blitz usually pays dividends, he adds.

Advertisers today are focusing heavily on social media and buzz marketing, so anything a brand does locally on a grand scale will likely be shared and tweeted to people far and wide, Tristano says. “This reminds consumers about brands and their role within the restaurant industry,” he says.


Local Sourcing, Quality Ingredients Take Center Stage

November 26, 2014

featureimagestephanieizardAmericans are voicing increased concerns about the foods they put in their bodies, a message that is being heard — and responded to — by chefs and restaurateurs across the country.
Menumakers are striving to render the dining experience more transparent by addressing such consumer queries as where does their food come from, what’s in it and how is it made. At the same time, many are modifying their menus and purchasing strategies, and stepping up the use of ingredients that are of superior quality, locally sourced, pristinely fresh, free of additives and generally perceived as being more healthful.

Industry experts regard this intensifying focus on ingredients and sourcing as the direction many more restaurateurs will be taking in the future. “It’s not a fad, it’s a long-term trend,” says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president-foodservice strategies for WD Partners in Columbus, Ohio. “We will continue to see [the use of] better ingredients and more transparency as to where these ingredients come from.”

Local ingredient sourcing — which also encompasses the burgeoning farm-to-table movement — is gaining traction throughout the industry. Many chefs and restaurateurs are purchasing their produce, meats, dairy products, seafood and alcoholic beverages from area farmers and other local suppliers, often emphasizing the provenance of such foods and beverages on their menus or via their serving staff. A growing number of consumers have come to associate the trend with the serving of fresher, more wholesome and authentic ingredients, and now expect to find it in certain dining experiences, most notably in higher end restaurants.

“It’s increasingly important,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc. in Chicago, “especially to the Millennial generation.”

Technomic cited “micro-local” as being one of 10 foodservice trends to look forward to in 2015, while “locally sourced meats and seafood” and “locally grown produce” ranked in first and second place, respectively, in the National Restaurant Association’s Top 20 trends for 2014. Hyper-local sourcing — such as from restaurant gardens — was No. 6 and farm/estate branded items was No. 10.

Datassential also finds that Americans are warming to the idea of local sourcing and the focus on better-quality products. The research firm says 84 percent of consumers believe it is increasingly important for chains to offer fresh, local, organic, and/or natural ingredients. “Instead of basics, we’re seeing more premium, interesting ingredients and flavors showing up on menus,” says Datassential senior director Jana Mann.

However, Technomic’s Tristano maintains that the local sourcing trend must gain yet even more traction before it seriously impacts most consumers’ ordering behavior. “It’s important now, but when it comes down to changing the behavior of the majority of Americans, it’s not quite there yet,” he says. “Only 40 percent of consumers indicate that local sourcing influences their behavior. It’s three to five years off before local goes from a ‘nice-to-do’ to a ‘must-do.’

“But, yes,” he adds, “we expect to see more of it.”

The trend — whose influence varies depending upon the type of restaurant — is being fueled by an increasingly food-savvy public that wants to know more about what is being served to them and is prompting chefs and restaurateurs to trade up to better-quality ingredients.

As part of the movement, some chefs have aligned themselves closely with suppliers and products they believe reflect their restaurant’s philosophy and commitment to quality food preparation. Restaurants like Savory Maine in Damariscotta, Maine, and Farmhouse Tavern in Chicago make local products the stars of their menus. Savory Maine, for instance, says 90 percent of its products are state-sourced, while FarmHouse Tavern sources its ingredients from farmers, brewers and suppliers in states along the Lake Michigan shoreline, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.

Stephanie Izard, executive chef and co-owner of Girl & The Goat and Little Goat Diner in Chicago, is a long-time advocate of farm-to-table dishes. She has partnered with Kraft Foodservice’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese and showcases the versatile dairy product in a range of sweet and savory dishes. Izard won a James Beard Award in 2013 as “Best New Chef: Great Lakes,” and is the winner of the fourth season of Top Chef, Bravo’s cooking competition show.

While local sourcing and the trend toward menuing authentic ingredients has already spread throughout the higher end restaurant community, it also is making itself felt among chain operators as well. Ype Von Hengst, co-founder, executive chef and vice president culinary operations of Silver Diner, the 15-unit regional casual-dining concept based in Rockville, Md., says he makes his menu as local as possible.

“It supports the local economy, creates jobs and often gives me a fresher, better product,” he says.

Von Hengst purchases produce and fruit from nearby suppliers in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, dairy products from Pennsylvania, flat iron steaks from Maryland and Virginia, and fresh lamb burgers from Pennsylvania. Since Silver Diner began emphasizing better-quality local ingredients, Von Hengst says the concept has enjoyed 57 months of increasing sales. “That tells you the consumer appreciates what we’ve done with local products,” he says.

He says the public’s growing knowledge of food also is impacting the trend toward the use of “real” ingredients. “People don’t want to see food additives or artificial chemicals or flavorings,” he says. “So our goal is to make food as pure and wholesome as possible.”

One of Silver Diner’s top-selling dishes is a roasted vegetable salad with champagne dressing that showcases such local produce as butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and beets. “People know about better ingredients and are switching to healthier foods,” he says.

For some operators, local sourcing and the use of higher caliber, “real” ingredients can fulfill another role in a restaurant’s mission. Walter Staib, chef-proprietor of historic City Tavern in Philadelphia, says the farm-to-table movement forms an integral component in the 240-year-old restaurant’s effort to recreate authentic dishes from the American Colonial period.

“Whenever we can buy from Amish farms in Lancaster County or farms in New Jersey or other local vendors, we do,” Staib says. “Freshness and quality are very important to us.”

So is historical verisimilitude, he adds, noting that the Tavern tries to use only ingredients that might have been served in Philadelphia in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, Staib says the restaurant uses many pounds of cream cheese, which was introduced into the region by the area’s original German settlers. In addition to being featured in such desserts as cheesecake, City Tavern offers savory dishes like smoked salmon roulade with cream cheese and knishes with cream cheese and basil.

“We’re a restaurant that relies on our reputation,” Staib says, “so for us it has always been this way. I believe that the best ingredients give you the best results … and I think the consumer is aware of that, too. We always try to use fresh products and foods that are authentic. Our reputation depends on it.”


Should Domino’s and Papa John’s Fear Pizza Hut’s Big Menu Changes?

November 21, 2014

Until now the differences between Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM) Pizza Hut, Domino’s (NYSE: DPZ), and Papa John’s (NASDAQ: PZZA) have been mostly a matter of personal preference. Aside from the occasional special offer or novelty pie, all three chains offer a basic take on pizza.

That has changed as Pizza Hut, the lagging member of this trio of mediocre national pizza purveyors, has radically overhauled its menu. The company, which in recent years has resorted to stuffing cheese into its crusts, has added a wealth of new choices built on the idea that customers want customization. It’s pizza on the Chipotle model with choices including 10 different crust flavors, six sauces, and a variety of new toppings.

Favorites like the Meat Lover’s Pizza will remain, but customers will now be able to order it with a variety of enhancements. So, for people who want their pepperoni and sausage with honey Sriracha sauce and “Ginger Boom Boom” or “Curried Away” crust, Pizza Hut will have it for them.

Why is Pizza Hut doing this?
Pizza Hut has reported sales declines for each of the last eight quarters and this new menu is an attempt to turn things around. “This is the biggest change we’ve ever made,” Chief Marketing Officer Carrie Walsh told USA TODAY. “We’re redefining the category.”

Pizza Hut needed to do something; as it has struggled, Domino’s and Papa John’s have been chugging along nicely. In the third quarter Domino’s posted 7.7% domestic same-store sales growth year over year and growth of 7.1% internationally, marking the 83rd consecutive quarter of international same-store sales growth. In its third quarter, Papa John’s posted a 7.4% gain in its North American stores while gaining 5.5% internationally.

Will it work?
One industry analyst told USA Today the chain might be trying to do too much too fast. “It would appear that the brand that has lost touch with the consumer is trying to change too much overnight,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, was quoted as saying.

Pizza Hut might be aiming to please customers with a shift to Chipotle-like customization, but it’s going to be a challenge for a Yum! Brands property to gain a similar reputation. Chipotle has succeeded not just because it offers customization, but because it has a well-known commitment to quality food. Neither Pizza Hut nor sister chains Taco Bell and KFC have reputations based on offering good food. Pizza Hut may find that simply adding trendy flavors like Sriracha may not be enough to win quality-conscious millennials.

On the plus side, the chain will be adding new toppings including banana peppers, cherry peppers, and spinach. On the negative, filed under “please don’t insult our intelligence,” the pizza purveyor will be renaming a number of its standard toppings, ostensibly to make them more appealing. The customer who cares where Chipotle sources its beef from may not be fooled by Pizza Hut renaming black olives as “Mediterranean black olives” or red onions being dubbed “fresh red onions,” even though nothing has changed.

Can Pizza Hut be reinvented?
While Domino’s rebuilt its brand by revamping its pizza a few years ago, the company just improved its recipe, it did not radically change its menu. What Pizza Hut is doing amounts to a massive change in direction, an attempt to differentiate itself from its two major competitors.

Pizza Hut’s moves might even send some of its customers running for its rivals. Though the chain will still be selling “normal” pizzas, it runs the risk of confusing people who just want a plain old pepperoni pie and do not want to have to wade through a wealth of options. Those customers may well switch to Domino’s or Papa Johns.

The potential gain however is not in stealing traditional, undiscerning pizza eaters from its rivals, it’s a bigger growth strategy of winning over fast-casual diners not necessarily looking for pizza. Domino’s and Papa John’s have largely penned themselves in to a specific audience — people who want familiar pizzas cheaply.
Pizza Hut is looking to break the mold and widen its potential customer base — a move that could push it ahead of its rivals. That is a huge risk because the company could scare away its existing customers while failing to win new ones. For this to work the brand has to win customers not just from its pizza rivals, but from fast-casual restaurants including Chipotle, which have a higher perceived quality.

To do that, Pizza Hut needs to up its game. It’s one thing to offer more choice, but a lousy salted caramel organic beet pizza with an artisanal cheese crust won’t be successful just because it has a lot of trendy words attached to it.

To make this new offering, which rolls out Nov. 19, work, the company is going to need to actually deliver quality pizza that people want to come back for. Fancily named olives and balsamic drizzles won’t be able to disguise a mediocre pie.


Pizza Hut Revamps Menu, Brand

November 19, 2014

pictureBruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

Pizza Hut is rebooting itself for a new generation of pizza eaters.

Following two years of disappointing sales as consumers sought even more exotic flavors and personalized options, the world’s largest pizza chain on Monday will announce plans to turn upside down almost every facet of its identity.

Pizza Hut will focus on dozens of new flavor options as it mounts the 56-year-old brand’s biggest-ever redo. It will add 11 new pizza recipes, 10 new crust flavors, six new sauces, five new toppings, four new flavor-pack drizzles, a new logo, new uniforms and, yes, even a new pizza box.

For those keeping count, the chain is more than doubling its available ingredients at all 6,300 U.S. locations beginning Nov. 19.

“This is the biggest change we’ve ever made,” Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer, says in a telephone interview. “We’re redefining the category.”

The ongoing tailspin — eight consecutive quarters of same-store sales declines — recently resulted in a management reshuffle. David Gibbs, who has been U.S president, was named CEO last week. He was not available for this story.

Even the chain’s sister brands at Yum Brands — Taco Bell and KFC — generally have been growing, but Pizza Hut seems to have hit a wall. Will these changes be enough to heal an ailing brand? Or, perhaps, are they too many, too late?

“Pizza Hut may be doing too much too quickly,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, the restaurant industry research specialist. “It would appear that the brand that has lost touch with the consumer is trying to change too much overnight.” He suggests a more gradual approach because, among other things, all of these changes could particularly confuse the chain’s traditional customers.

Not so, says Walsh. Pizza Hut researched “hundreds” of ingredients, she says. “These are the ones customers told us they want.”

It’s not the first time a major pizza chain tried to quickly reinvent itself. Back in 2009, Domino’s, which had taken plenty of public grief for the taste of its pizza, changed everything in the recipe of its core pizza. New sauce. New crust. New cheese. It turned out to be a hit.

In this case, however, Pizza Hut is not changing its core recipe. Instead, it’s adding many, many more choices.

How many? Who’s counting. But consider this: There will now be about 1,000 ways to customize something as basic as a pepperoni pizza at Pizza Hut, says Walsh.

Among Pizza Hut’s new offerings, it’s going from:
• One crust choice to 10, including salted pretzel and honey sriracha.
• One sauce choice to six, including garlic Parmesan and Buffalo.
• Zero “premium” toppings to five, including sliced banana peppers and Peruvian cherry peppers.
• Zero “drizzles” to five, which are basically sauces like Buffalo and balsamic that are lightly drizzled on the top of the pizza after it’s baked.
• Six special recipes to 22, including 7-Alarm Fire (loaded with peppers and jalapeno) to Giddy-Up Barbecue Chicken (with chicken and bacon and barbecue sauce.)

It also will nationally roll-out a so-called Skinny Slice pizza line — with five offerings at about 250 calories per slice.

To announce the change, the chain will launch its largest-ever advertising campaign dubbed “The Flavor of Now,” says Walsh, though she declines to provide details. There’s even a possibility that the chain, which hasn’t advertised during a Super Bowl in 15 years, is considering such a move for the upcoming big game on Feb. 1.

“We’re looking,” says Walsh. “This change deserves a big statement.”


What Pizza Hut’s Radical New Menu Actually Tastes Like

November 18, 2014

Depends how you feel about honey sriracha crust and balsamic drizzlesPizza Hut Menu Launch Press Event in NYC
The half-dozen servers were dressed in all black, down to the sleek leather gloves they wore as they doled out slices of Pretzel Piggy, Old Fashioned Meatbrawl and Cherry Pepper Bombshell. On the side: balsamic, buffalo, BBQ and honey sriracha sauces, or in Pizza Hut’s new parlance, “drizzles.” All of it was surrounded by a new logo, new delivery boxes, new casual-looking uniforms, and a new motto: “The Flavor of Now.”

This is the new, at times unrecognizable, Pizza Hut. Or, at least, it was the one shown to members of the media Monday afternoon to mark what David Gibbs, the company’s newly installed CEO, calls “one of the biggest moves we’ve ever made in our history.”

On Nov. 19, Pizza Hut will essentially relaunch its entire brand, changing the food it serves, the way its ordered and even the company logo. There are 11 new signature pizzas, six new sauces, 10 new crust flavors and four drizzles — enough options to allow for 2 billion unique pizza combinations. For the company known for trencherman staples like Stuffed Crust, Meat Lover’s and Supreme, the new menu is the fast-food equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.

“It’s a fear of irrelevance,” says Darren Tristano, a food industry analyst at Technomic. “But the potential to negatively influence their current customer base is certainly there.”

It’s a risk Pizza Hut is willing to take, though they’re hedging bets by keeping those old favorites on the menu. Sales at the nation’s largest pizza chain have been dropping for two years, as Domino’s, Little Caesars and Papa John’s—the No. 2, 3 and 4 chains, respectively—have cut into Pizza Hut’s business. Regional build-your-own pizza chains like Blaze and Pieology and customization-heavy fast-casual brands like Chipotle are also luring diners from the pan pizza depot.

“America’s tastes are changing,” Gibbs says. “People are interested in bold new flavors. It’s a pretty natural move to be the one to take the pizza category where nobody’s taken it before with all these new flavors and ingredients.”

Domino’s offered a template in 2009, when the company admitted that its sauce and crust weren’t that great and invited customers to taste the new version. They bolstered their campaign with an updated social media presence and smoother online ordering to cater to millennials. Sales have soared since, which is as much a reason for Pizza Hut drizzling hot sauce on garlic crusts as anything.

So what does the “flavor of now” taste like? Thankfully, better than it sounds (The Cock-a-Doodle Bacon. Why?).

We started with Pizza Hut’s new asiago breadsticks alongside four dipping sauces: balsamic, BBQ, buffalo and honey sriracha. They’re miles from your basic marinara or cheese sauce, but not necessarily for the better. Whether dipping in the sweet but mild balsamic, tangy, molasses-heavy BBQ, unmemorable buffalo or lightly spicy honey sriracha, my asiago sticks longed for a red sauce.

The newfangled pizzas tended to come together better. The Cock-a-Doodle Bacon pie is spread with a creamy garlic parmesan sauce topped with grilled chicken and bacon. The riff on Alfredo is rich enough that you don’t miss the marinara.

The Old Fashioned Meatbrawl is a reasonably restrained update on the classic topping: the meatballs are small enough not to dominate each bite, and a garlic crust adds an extra salty pop.

Cherry Pepper Bombshell is also better than it sounds. The cherry peppers and balsamic drizzle add a sweet punch that goes well with meaty salami. But the shower of fresh spinach on top didn’t add much. It felt similarly unnecessary on the Pretzel Piggy, which is one of the most convoluted combinations on the new signature menu. A salted pretzel crust with the creamy garlic parmesan sauce from the Cock-a-Doodle is topped with bacon, mushrooms and spinach and then finished with a balsamic drizzle. It worked, kind of, though you’d need to be in a particular kind of mood to take one down solo.

The custom crusts are Pizza Hut’s attempt to make choosing your dough as common as picking your toppings. Of the two new ones I tried, the Ginger Boom Boom crust—with regular cheese and marinara—was subtle, a bit garlicky, with only a mildly taste of ginger. The honey sriracha crust (with a pepperoni topping), meanwhile, was sticky and a bit too overpowering.

So is this really what millennials crave? Maybe. Pizza Hut will likely cast off a kicked-up drizzle, flavor-dusted crust or meatbrawl pie if it turns out it isn’t selling. Besides, it’s not as if Pizza Hut is a sauce and dough purist.

“We’ve always been the one taking the category to new places,” says Gibbs, Pizza Hut’s CEO. “Yes, the younger customers are more interested than the older demographics in experimenting with flavor. But I think across all demographics, there’s something on the menu for everybody.”


What Obesity Problem Burger King’s Low-Calorie Satisfries Are a Total Flop

August 29, 2014

pictureThe fast-food chain plans to discontinue the healthier fried chunks of potato in most of its U.S. restaurants.

By Liz Dwyer

Americans may seriously tip the obesity scales, but when it comes to chowing down on fried wedges of potato, apparently we want full fat or nothing at all. At least, that’s what the demise of Burger King’s line of Satisfries seems to reveal. The fast-food giant announced on Wednesday that because of a lack of customer demand, it is discontinuing the relatively healthier french fry product.

“Earlier this week, franchisees in North America were given the option to continue offering Satisfries in markets where this game-changing product continues to perform well,” the company announced in a statement, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Two-thirds of restaurants chose to ditch the product.

The fries were first made available last September as part of Burger King’s effort to appeal to folks who might be on the hunt for healthier menu options. Satisfries were marketed as “great tasting crinkle-cut french fries with 40 percent less fat and 40 percent fewer calories” than McDonald’s french fries.

Consumers might have been a bit confused by the product. At $1.89 for a small container, Satisfries were more expensive than their full-fat, full-calorie counterpart, which are $1.59. A small box of Satisfries racked up 270 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 300 milligrams of sodium—not much less than the 340 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 480 milligrams of sodium found in the same-size traditional fries.

There’s also the tiny detail that when customers walk into a Burger King, they’re not usually on the hunt for a healthier food choice. “They go to fast food restaurants like Burger King for indulgence,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food industry consultant Technomic Inc., told NBC News.

So what do Americans want instead? This week Burger King also announced that because of grassroots demand on Twitter and Facebook, its previously discontinued Chicken Fries are back. As one fan enthused on Facebook about the fat-, sodium-, and calorie-packed product, “When you guys got rid of these I stopped going there my one to two times a week and only went a couple times a year after that. So time to kick back into gear and get my chicken fries on!”


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