dairy queen

Dairy Queen looks to food for future

New marketing exec Maria Hokanson says chain should continue to evolve its menu

Dairy Queen’s new marketing executive wants the chain to venture even further into food territory. 

Maria Hokanson was recently promoted to executive vice president of marketing for the Minneapolis-based chain.

Maria Hokanson
Photo: Dairy Queen

She’d previously been vice president of U.S. products and brand marketing, where she’d helped develop the $5 Buck Lunch promotion in 2013 that helped remind consumers that Dairy Queen was more than just a treat chain.

Hokanson believes there’s even more the chain can do to broaden its menu and customer base.

“We’re always looking to continue to grow and elevate and wow our fans,” Hokanson said in an interview. “Families’ lives are so chaotic. Whether they’re out at lunch or having an evening snack, we want to be the right place for them.”

Hokanson replaced Barry Westrum, who had been chief marketing officer until leaving for Del Taco Restaurants Inc. last month. Hokanson is a 13-year Dairy Queen veteran, and has been in retail marketing for more than 20 years. 

The brand has long been known for its soft-serve ice cream, and the treats made with it. Yet Dairy Queen struggled for years to bolster its food business before succeeding in recent years thanks to the 2013 promotion that helped establish $5 quick-service meal deals. 

The food sales helped the chain’s U.S. system sales grow by 13 percent the past two years, according to NRN Top 100 data.

“It was such a fun project to work on,” Hokanson said. “It helped build a growth trajectory for the food business.”

She believes the chain can do more along those lines — particularly in the snacking space. 

“Many consumers aren’t eating three square meals a day,” she said. “They’re snacking more. We can introduce snacks that are built for snacking, instead of just shrunken versions of existing menu items.”

Hokanson said that retail marketing requires companies to be “nimble” and quick, and that’s especially true in the restaurant business in 2017 — when a competitive market gives consumers numerous choices and forces companies to constantly evolve. 

In addition to work on the menu, Hokanson said that Dairy Queen can evolve by remodeling more restaurants. And she said the company can do more to take advantage of its existing digital footprint.

“We have an opportunity to have more dialogue and conversations with fans,” Hokanson said. “It’s why our digital footprint is bigger than you would expect. So many things are clicking for us.” 

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmaze 

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