The development of Burger King’s Homestyle Melt Sandwiches limited-time offering was a team effort that grew from a love of toast.

“[It] really was a good example of a bunch of departments working together,” says Kevin [3] Houston, Burger King’s director of core product innovation. “The primary driver for it was a consumer insight that our core customer, our super fan, loves toast. And as simple as that may sound, they’re not necessarily getting toast in the QSR base.”

Adam Tabachnikoff, the Miami-based company’s senior manager of global product marketing, says: “Consumers told us that they were looking for sandwiches like mom would make, so a home-style sandwich that your mom would make is what we went out and tried to introduce. So then we actually tested it and asked the consumers, ‘Did we hit that goal?’ And in fact with Homestyle Melts we were told: ‘Yes, you did. You over-delivered. It’s great.’”

Making a sandwich with “soft, buttery toasted bread takes the melt to a totally different product than a double cheeseburger,” Houston says. The limited-time offer, available at U.S. units last Oct. 29 through Dec. 9, included the Honey Butter Melt, a breakfast sandwich made from a sausage patty, egg, American cheese and honey-butter sauce on warm, buttery-flavored sourdough bread; and the Bacon Double Melt, built on the same bread, but consisting of two burger patties, bacon, melted Swiss cheese and a creamy garlic cheese sauce.

ITEM: Homestyle Melt SandwichesROLLOUT: Oct. 29, 2007, to Dec. 9, 2007COMPANY: Burger King Corp. [4]HEADQUARTERS:MiamiUNITS: About 7,200 in the United States; 11,390 worldwide — Homestyle Melt Sandwiches were in U.S. stores onlyDESCRIPTION:Breakfast Melt, total weight 209 grams; Bacon Double Homestyle Melt, total weight 204 gramsPRICE:Breakfast Melt – $2.39, suggested retail; Bacon Double Homestyle Melt – $2.79, suggested retailDEVELOPERS: Kevin Houston, director of core product innovation; Lindy Miller, senior manager of product innovation; Adam Tabachnikoff, senior manager of global product marketing

The Bacon Double Melt uses the same patty as Burger King’s regular-size, flame-broiled hamburgers, not the Whopper’s. The development team considered a variety of cheeses, including cheese already used for other Burger King products, but ultimately settled on a processed Swiss cheese for its good melting qualities and its compatibility with the sandwich’s sauce.

If at first you don’t succeed…

The sauce, a creamy garlic Asiago sauce, was marketed simply as “creamy garlic cheese sauce.” Houston says Asiago is “a flavor profile that our customers really did like,” but there was concern that drawing attention to the word “Asiago” would alienate some.

During the course of testing, one of the things that changed, Houston says, “was something as simple as the amount of butter flavor in the bread.

“We had an operational challenge buttering the bread in the store,” he says, adding that although customers love toasted buttery bread, “they don’t want greasy fingers,” especially if they are purchasing the sandwich at the drive-thru, a large part of Burger King’s business.

To address both issues, Houston says, Burger King worked with the manufacturer to get the desired flavor into the bread.

Another development in the testing process was agreeing on a protocol for holding the product, which speeds customer service and gives the cheese more melting time.

“Many of our products are made to order,” Houston says. “This one, though, can be held for some period on a heat chute, which, contrary to most things, actually improves the eating quality of this product.

“We also looked at special packaging to prevent the steaming effect that you get when you wrap a sandwich; so we looked at a package, a wrap that would breathe a little bit better to help with messiness as well.”

Cliché melts consumers’ hearts

“Probably it sounds kind of clichéd, but sometimes very successful items can be very simple,” Houston says. “It doesn’t always take a bunch of new ingredients and new equipment or new techniques to come up with a successful product launch. Simply listening to what our customers want, taking that insight and figuring out how [to use] basic, wholesome ingredients that are readily available can meet that consumer need.”

The strategy paid off, Tabachnikoff says.

“As always, when we introduce a new product, we always have a forecast, what Burger King expects that we’re going to sell in terms of numbers,” he says. “After successfully testing these in market, we had a hunch, we were cautiously optimistic, that it would sell well. We had a forecast that we thought was aggressive but accurate, and we were all delighted with the sales that we were able to exceed that aggressive forecast by 28 percent.

“In changing the bread carrier and introducing the new sauce and making sure that all the ingredients complemented each other well, we were able to deliver an innovative new sandwich that was in line with our strategy and actually capitalized on Burger’s King’s flame-broiled equity.”

“They loved it,” Robes St. Juste, a San Antonio-based franchisee with 15 stores, says about his customers’ reaction to the Homestyle Melts. “It was a great sandwich. It was definitely an easy sale for us.”

St. Juste notes that sales at his units were strong during the time the Melts were on the menu.

“Anything that gives us a little boost in sales, we welcome,” he says, “and anything that would bring new customers to our doors is great, and any time we can bring the regulars back one more time maybe to try a new sandwich, that’s also good.”

St. Juste would welcome a return of Homestyle Melts to the menu and notes that customers are still asking for them.

BK officials say those franchisees and customers won’t be disappointed.

“They were successful for us, and I expect them to come back in their existing format, but we’re looking for other melt builds,” Houston says, adding that he sees definite consumer interest in a chicken melt. A steak melt is also under consideration.

“It’s an exciting platform that definitely has a bright future for Burger King,” Tabachnikoff notes.