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Change on the menu at Burger King

Longtime franchisee on what BK’s latest menu moves could mean for the brand

Burger King is changing up its menu with tests of several new products, a move that a longtime franchisee says could help turn around the nation’s No. 2 burger brand.

Tony Versaci, president and chief executive of the 17-unit Burger King franchisee Multi King Corp. of Michigan and Illinois and chairman of the chain’s National Franchisee Association, said he welcomed the new menu initiatives — including fruit smoothies, berry parfaits and an Asian chicken salad — and what they may mean for the brand, which has suffered with sliding sales in recent years.

“I’m excited about the potential and revitalization of this brand,” said Versaci, who has been a Burger King franchisee for 34 years. “I am more excited about the changes in the brand than I have been in 20 years.”

Burger King said in a statement to Nation’s Restaurant News on Tuesday that the menu changes were aimed at appealing to more consumers. The 12,251-unit chain said earlier this year it was looking for new customers outside its core burger-eating, 18-to-35 male demographic.

“While we have no plans to move away from the popular Whopper sandwich, we are taking steps to expand our menu to be more attractive to our guests and adjust our product set to appeal to a broader audience,” Burger King said in its statement. “With that in mind, we are simplifying our options to highlight the products our guests know and love us for with a continued focus on freshness, quality and flavor.”

Burger King declined to detail what’s in the produce pipeline. However, a report Tuesday in the Miami Herald said the chain is testing more than 12 new menu items in various markets, including mango and berry smoothies, vanilla soft-serve chocolate sundaes, oatmeal with dried fruit and low-fat parfaits.

Franchisee Versaci said he hopes any new menu changes at Burger King are done in a way that differentiates them from similar offerings at McDonald’s, which has already added smoothies and oatmeal to its menu.

Nancy Kruse, an Atlanta-based menu consultant and president of the Kruse Co., said it made sense for Burger King to scrutinize its menu in light of falling sales, but she noted that the chain should follow its own slogan of “Have it your way” when it comes to updating its menu, rather than fall in line behind McDonald’s.

“That was a brilliant marketing position and they were way head of the curve in terms of answering customer demands for customization. It gave them a point of differentiation,” Kruse said. “Burger King would be best advised to go back to square one where they started and have it your way and use it as a launching point for restaurant innovation.”

Versaci said he was happy Burger King included franchisees in the process of updating its menu offerings amid sales struggles, including a 6-percent decline in fourth-quarter same-store sales in the U.S. and Canada.

“This is not a simple process,” Versaci said. “It involves training, equipment and new products. Change and transition can be difficult sometimes but in many cases it’s fruitful. I expect dynamic changes.”

Burger King’s menu changes come at a time of transition for the chain. Since its acquisition last fall by private-equity firm 3G Capital, Burger King has made sweeping changes to its management and marketing. The chain split with its longtime ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, in March, and said it would conduct market research to get a handle on customer wants.

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In the end, customer desires will drive the menu offerings and changes, Versaci said.

“The restaurant industry is a moving target and the taste of Americans change daily. What will make the cut [on the menu] will be what consumers want and buy,” he said. “I give credit to the company to reaching out and working on this. It’s a question of time and money and training. That’s where it’s difficult.”

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @AlanSnelNRN

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