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Sonic to launch value menu

OKLAHOMA CITY Looking to stem slipping sales and increase its appeal to cash-strapped consumers, Sonic Corp. said Monday it would launch a value menu at its 3,500-store system by the end of December.

The move makes Sonic the latest quick-service operator to unveil such an initiative. Last week, KFC said it would introduce the chain’s first national value menu next year, featuring nine items for between 99 cents and $1.99 each. And other chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, have reported success with value menus offering items typically priced around $1.

Paul Macaluso, Sonic’s vice president of marketing, said the company would not release specific details about the value menu, though he said items would be priced "around a dollar" and would include breakfast dishes.

He said the new value menu would complement other promotions in place at the drive-in chain. "This is a first for us,” Macaluso said. “We’ve had various ongoing initiatives like our Happy Hour, which has been on a systemwide basis for just over a year now.”

The Happy Hour offers half-priced drinks and slushes from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily. That program will continue, Macaluso said.

The value menu that will be introduced by the end of the month “is a broader array of products" available all day, he said. “It will be broad enough that people can make their own meals and have snacks and sides,” Macaluso said.

The Oklahoma City-based company said separately in a statement that the value menu reflected “the added pressure that the challenging economic environment has placed on consumers and, in turn, the growing frequency of consumers trading to lower-priced choices.”

Clifford Hudson, Sonic’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement: “Our new value menu will give customers the flexibility to snack, add sides or build a meal at a price that best meets their needs.”

Sonic also updated its expectations for sales trends in the first quarter of fiscal 2009, which ended Nov. 30, saying that same-store sales were below expectations and likely to show a decline of 2 percent to 3 percent. The company said sales at drive-ins in which it owns a majority interest, which it calls “partner drive-ins,” have continued to lag sales at franchisee-owned stores by about four percentage points.

Sonic said it expects to report its first-quarter results Jan. 8.

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