Burger King debuted Monday its biggest menu expansion in the chain’s 58-year history, with new items that are already familiar in the quick-service world but that Burger King hopes to position as “best in class.”
About 10 new items have been added to the menu at Burger King’s 7,200 locations across the country, including new premium Garden Fresh salads, snack wrap sandwiches, fruit smoothies, chicken strips and frappe drinks.
Critics have noted that McDonald’s and other chains have offered such items for some time, but Steve Wiborg, executive vice president of Burger King Corp. and president of the North America division, told Nation’s Restaurant News that the new menu items were a response to consumer demand, not to competitors.
“Consumers told us two things. They told us they love the great taste of our food, and they have loved it since 1954. They expect whatever we do to be best in class, and that included outside the realm of burgers,” Wiborg said. “The second thing is they wanted more choices, like they could get at our competition — whether that was Starbucks or McDonald’s or anybody else — and those had to be best in class.”
Wiborg said Burger King’s new additions stand out from the crowd because they are freshly made. The new smoothies, including the options of mango or strawberry-banana, are hand-blended to order and include a serving of fruit blended with juice and low-fat yogurt.
The new salads, which include a BLT variety, as well as Apple and Cranberry, and a classic Caesar, are also made to order, he said.
“The salads are not coming from the outside,” Wiborg said. “They’re not being taken out of a cooler and handed to guests. We’re actually preparing them, and that’s what our guests told us they wanted. They wanted best-in-class ingredients.”
The new menu items range in price from $1.59 for the snack wraps, which Wiborg said was slightly less than prices offered by competitors for a similar product, to $4.99 for the new salads.
“I think our guests are getting a premium product for a very fair price, and it doesn’t go against our menu offerings currently,” he said.
Burger King’s new menu items include:
• Three Garden Fresh salads: BLT, Apple and Cranberry and Caesar, each available with the topping choice of Tendercrisp or Tendergrill chicken. Suggested prices start at $4.99.
• Chicken Snack Wraps in two flavors: Honey Mustard Crispy Chicken and Ranch Crispy Chicken. Both have fewer than 400 calories and the suggested price is $1.59.
• Real Fruit Smoothies in two flavors: Tropical Mango and Strawberry Banana. Suggested price: $2.29.
• Frappes in Mocha and Caramel flavors, made to order with whipped topping and a swirl of fudge or caramel sauce. Suggested price: $2.29.
• Crispy Chicken Strips: Made with white-meat tenderloin chicken, marinated and lightly battered and fried. Served in three- or five-piece servings with new sauces, including Kung Pao and Roasted Jalapeno Barbecue. Prices start at $2.99.
Looking at more than the menu
Burger King recently marked the end of its first year as a private company after being acquired by 3G Capital Management in October 2010.
Over the past year, the chain has been tweaking its menu, with the addition of the premium Chef’s Choice burger line, the addition of soft-serve ice cream and desserts and upgrading core items, including the chain’s French fries and kids' meals.
The menu upgrades are part of a four-tier business strategy to improve sales in North America that included an ongoing remodel plan to bring restaurants up to date with a new look, a new marketing plan that this year will include a big advertising push, as well as a focus on operations and training.
Wiborg said Burger King expects to have about half of its U.S. locations remodeled according to its new reimaging campaign within three years.
At the end of December, about 230 locations were remodeled, and roughly 1,017 franchise locations were signed up to remodel within 12 to 18 months. Burger King’s largest franchisee Carrols Restaurant Group also has committed to remodeling 450 locations, including those acquired from the franchisor in a deal announced last week.
Meanwhile, the menu rollout Monday included other changes to Burger King restaurants, Wiborg said. All locations in the United States now have digital menu boards inside, as well as new-look menu boards in drive-thrus. Uniforms have also been changed, and food is presented in redesigned packaging, from the boxes burgers are served in to new cold cups and bags.
Similar changes have also been seen at other quick-service chains as more premium fast-casual burger brands, such as Five Guys and Smashburger, grow and threaten to steal market share.
Wiborg said other restaurant chains — not just burger players — are broadening their appeal to a wider audience, and Burger King is following suit.
He noted moves like Starbucks adding beer and wine to some stores, as well as Subway’s move into the breakfast daypart.
“Burger King is not just burgers,” he said. “We have America’s favorite burger in the Whopper, but you see lines expanding.
“What consumers are saying is they want a broader target, and that’s what we’re doing at Burger King,” he added.
Marketing the new menu
Alex Macedo, senior vice president of marketing for the North America division, said the new menu rollout will be accompanied by one of the company’s biggest media pushes, including television and radio advertising, social media, and the revamp of the BK website.
Commercials will feature A-list celebrities, including soccer star David Beckham, singer Mary J. Blige, actress Salma Hayek and comedian Jay Leno.
Over the next three months, Burger King plans to send out a fleet of 30 trucks that will offer free samples of menu items at events, like concerts, baseball games and other large public gatherings in 30 to 40 cities. Consumers can track the trucks beginning April 18.
Free samples will be offered in restaurants as well, Macedo said. One week in April will be devoted to sampling the new salads. In May, a week will showcase the new chicken strips and in June the focus will be on smoothies and frappes.
“We want people to come out and try them and we’re sure they’re going to love them,” Macedo said.
Wiborg said there is more to come this year, as the menu continues to evolve based on the company’s consumer research.
“We didn’t stop listening to our consumers and what you’ll see over the summer and fall will be directly from what they told us,” Wiborg said. “The innovation may be a little catch up, but they’re best in class products. Our guests will taste the difference and continue to come back.”