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Chick-fil-A’s Chargrilled & Fruit Salad

Chick-fil-A’s Chargrilled & Fruit Salad

The genesis of Chick-fil-A’s Char-grilled & Fruit Salad, a Menu-Masters winner for “Best Menu/Line Extension,” goes back many years and speaks volumes about customer input.

In the early 1990s, Woody Faulk, the chain’s vice president of brand development, read a newspaper article about eating more healthfully at quick-service restaurants. A customer, talking about Chick-fil-A, said, “Their salads are really boring, mundane and not very interesting.”

“That was a spear to my heart,” Faulk says. “I thought if she feels that way, maybe others do as well.”

Others did, Faulk discovered, so he contacted the lady, and said: “You’re right about our salads. We’re going to make changes. What would you like to see changed?”

Salad leader

In 1986 when Chick-fil-A introduced salads, it was a quick-service pacesetter.

“They put salads on their menu ahead of a lot of competitors,” says Joe Guy Collier, who covers food and beverage for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “However, they let them sit there without making significant changes. Now they’ve come up with something that’s a new level of salad for them.”

The gap from 1986 to 1999 between Chick-fil-A’s salad changes provided an important lesson, Faulk says.

“We had three salad choices and thought all was well,” he says. “But product developers have to stay in touch with real customers. You have to go to the restaurant, put food in front of people and watch what happens.”

That’s not to say that Chick-fil-A flies by the seat of its pants or follows the advice of just a few customers when developing products. With 41 consecutive years of positive sales, the company is prospering in a flat market.

“One reason for their success is that they’re very customer-driven and do huge amounts of consumer research before making any major marketing decision,” says Ken Bernhardt, professor of marketing at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Hearing customers

“Since they continually monitor what customers are thinking, they can pick up early warning signals and avoid problems,” Bernhardt says. “They do the research, and they listen to the research.”

As an extension to its salad line, Bernhardt is sold on the Chargrilled & Fruit Salad.

“It’s a terrific product, and it’s only 220 calories,” he says. “You order the salad along with a diet lemonade, and you’ve got a heck of a meal for only 250 calories.”

Collier points out that Chick-fil-A’s sales were up 12 percent last year and same-store sales rose 4.6 percent.

“I’ve got to think salads are contributing to that,” he says.

Salads, wraps and chicken salads accounted for 6.64 percent of Chick-fil-A’s menu mix last year. While not the chain’s salad leader—that would be the Chicken Strip Salad—the Chargrilled & Fruit Salad accounted for 10 percent of salad sales.

“It’s a niche product with a strong, loyal following,” Faulk says.

ITEM: Chargrilled & Fruit SaladROLLOUT: May 2008COMPANY: Chick-fil-AHEADQUARTERS: AtlantaUNITS: Over 1,430 stores in 38 states and Washington, D.C.DESCRIPTION: Slices of grilled chicken breast on a blend of romaine and iceberg lettuce, surrounded by shredded red cabbage, carrots, blend of Monterey jack and Cheddar cheese and a light blend of strawberry slices, red grapes, red and green apple pieces and mandarin orange segments. Served with harvest nut granola and choice of dressing. Made fresh daily. SERVING SIZE: 12.25 ounces, 347 grams, 220 caloriesPRICE: $5.55DISH DEVELOPERS: Woody Faulk, vice president, brand development; Steve Barker, brand development manager; Shona Jonson, senior manager, product development and nutrition; Jodie Worrell, senior nutrition consultant

Fresh fruit and salad combination

This salad represents Version 4 of the chain’s salad strategy, which dates back to Version 1 in 1986.

“We developed today’s salad based on two major trends,” Faulk says. “First, that salad consumption is rising, and, second, that fresh fruit is picking up momentum.”

Combining fruit and salad was a natural for Chick-fil-A, which already was serving a fruit cup.

“I saw people ordering the fruit cup and also a salad,” Faulk says. “I thought, let’s put them together and see what happens.”

The thing that works for Chick-fil-A is that the fruit cup and salad share ingredients, Collier says.

“They’re using the strawberries, grapes and mandarin oranges in the fruit cup and the salad,” he says. “I also like the way they serve the salad. They put ingredients in the corners so you can mix it together.”

Research adds steps

Chick-fil-A’s culinary team encountered only a few snags during the development process. Devising a trans-fat-free butter-garlic crouton and finding the right granola and salad dressing added extra research steps.

“We gathered customer feedback across a range of granolas,” Faulk says of the final decision to use harvest nut granola. “You have to balance the nutritional component, because it may surprise people how many calories are in granola.”

As the salad neared final development, Faulk and his team discovered that they did not have the right dressing.

“We have a lot of salad dressings at Chick-fil-A, so we had to stop, take a side trip and come up with a new salad dressing,” he says.

When Chick-fil-A launched the salad, it also introduced a new, revised raspberry dressing called Berry Balsamic Vinaigrette. It turned out to be a winner, just like the salad itself, Faulk says.

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