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Mars CREATE Roundtable - William Eudy Mary Pnnebaker-Conaway Randall Rodriguez Deborah McDaniel Owen Klein Sara Rosenberg Bittorf Tony Moralejo Ben Lee Josh Cardinal.jpg Ron Ruggless
At the CREATE roundtable in Denver, Colo, from left: William Eudy of Focus Brands; Mary Pennebaker-Conaway, national account manager for Mars Foodservices; Randall Rodriguez of Mars Foodservices; Deborah McDaniel of Little Caesar’s; Owen Klein of CKE Restaurants; Sara Rosenberg Bittorf of TGI Fridays; Tony Moralejo of Dine Brands Global; Ben Lee, corporate chef for Mars Foodservices; and Josh Cardinal, national account manager for Mars Foodservices.

How brands address challenges in global menu development

Executives discuss positives and negatives of operating abroad in the CREATE Mars Foodservices roundtable

Global menu development and the challenges it poses was the subject of an operator roundtable during the CREATE: The Future of Foodservice conference in late September.

Participants at the roundtable, sponsored by Mars Foodservices, included: included: Sara Rosenberg Bittorf, TGI Fridays’ chief experience officer; William Eudy, corporate executive chef Focus Brands International; Owen Klein, CKE Restaurants’ vice president of global culinary innovation; Deborah McDaniel, Little Caesar’s vice president of global research and development; Tony Moralejo, Dine Brands Global’s president of international; and Randall Rodriguez, national account lead for Mars Foodservices.

Here are some highlights from the roundtable conversation in Denver, Colo:

Ron Ruggless, NRN: In menu development for a global brand, who do you look to as the major stakeholders. How do you tap local sources, in addition to your existing supply chain?

Owen Klein, CKE Restaurants: We are a franchisee — primarily — model.  I believe we're about 93% franchised globally.  A lot of it starts with the franchisee or the master franchisee of the market. They are generally experts for their region, and we lean on them and their support team to direct what drives consumers in the restaurants.  But the main reason that they buy into a franchise model, and either Hardee's or Carl's specifically, is because they're attracted by the menu. They're attracted by the menu, and there's a distinguishing draw to that. There's got to be some menu standards that go into markets, and there's got to be a baseline manufacturing prowess that can support quick expansion in the region. Essentially, we need to be able to make our food overseas or be able to source it easily. Sourcing is dicey, especially these days. Making sure you can get your food and you have the right franchisee to grow are the two foundational aspects that you need before you start developing menus.

Ruggless, NRN: Sara, TGI Fridays recently announced a master franchise development for South Asia and Southeast Asia, what do you look at for stakeholders at this point? And what's going through your mind as you're thinking about adding restaurants in that region?

Sara Rosenberg Bittorf, TGI Friday’s: Well, one of the things that I think is an interesting challenge when growing globally, especially for a classic American brand, which is what we consider Fridays to be, is how much do you flex to accommodate the tastes of the local population? We want to try to create the integrity, I guess, of the core brand, but at the same time, we have to be able to broadly appeal to people.  That's kind of what's on our mind. We've worked this past year to really create a flex menu that says these core items are mandatory and are always going to be on a TGI Fridays menu, and then this is where you have the flexibility, within these guardrails. We have final approval of that.

William Eudy, Focus Brands: If it's a new market, we obviously want to do some of our own research. And if it's a new franchisee, we want to make sure that they have the business acumen to understand whichever business they're opening. But I think Owen hit it on the head: supply chain. You have to be able to get your food.  You have to be able to run restaurants and flex. We try to keep probably 80% of our menu as a core menu and let the local experts play with 20% of our menu because you have to appeal to that local audience.

Deborah McDaniel, Little Caesars: Probably our biggest difference is we do own the menu, so we don't have the franchisee owning it.  But we don't have master franchisees either at this point. We have a core menu and dictate those particular ingredients.  Obviously, we want to lead with the price value.  Pepperoni pizzas are core, followed by cheese.  … We own all of our distribution. As we open new countries, we're assessing and figuring out what the right way to do that is. We are using some distribution companies in-country.

Tony Moralejo, Dine Brands:  We're 100% franchised.  We think some of the best ideas come from franchisees.  We involve them in the process, primarily to gain alignment but also to vet any ideas they have. The process is not marketing-led or culinary-led.  It's a collaborative process, where we give a lot of flexibility to the creativity of our in-house chef. We want them to be a little agnostic on the final product, but we want them to be creative, and so they understand that there's culinary guardrails, like everyone spoke about, but we're not going to be developing pizza at IHOP anytime soon, even if a franchisee came up with the idea. … At the end of the day, it needs to be replicable, right?  It has to be a product that is going to be served in multiple different countries and with potentially different taste profiles and heat profiles, etc. We ask our culinary team to be a little agnostic, but to be creative when they make up these products.

Ruggless, NRN: What do you look for in your manufacturing partners?

Klein, CKE Restaurants: We look for more than food, I'll say. We look for data. We're always data-starved — not just hungry — overseas. Pertinent data that is market-specific is a rarity these days.

Moralejo, Dine Brands:  I'll just add that we want our vendors especially on the menu side, on the food side, to be proactive and to fully understand our business, whether it's the back-of-the-house operating model, the margins that we deal with, the P&L pressures that our franchisees are under, and to be proactive, to be an extension of our internal marketing and culinary team. As an example, we have one vendor that went out and tested a few concepts because they knew we were looking for a certain value offering in one of the regions that we operate in. And they went out and they tested the concepts.  They came back.  They developed a couple of menu items.  They did some online testing to find price sensitivity, naming, etc. And they went out and did actual food testing. And then they came to us with the entire brief and said, "Here's what we have for you."  We were shocked.  … That, to me, is the Holy Grail, like, the best in class when you're talking about it.

Ruggless, NRN: What was the category of product for that?

Moralejo, Dine Brands:  It was a salad that we were trying to introduce in the Middle East.  We were struggling attracting more female customers in one country.

Rosenberg Bittorf, TGI Friday’s: I tell my suppliers that a rising tide lifts all boats.  And so please don't bring me ideas to drive your business.  Bring me ideas to drive my business, and when that works, your business will grow too.

Ruggless, NRN: Where changes are happening with the greatest speed?

Rodriguez, Mars: I think the evolution that we've seen in delivery and how people are ultimately ordering. I had seen happen a lot faster in the Middle East and Europe. It just skyrocketed and moved so fast because of the pandemic here. … I'm just really encouraged to see how quickly everyone reacted, put on the bootstraps, and actually was able to adapt to something thrown at you. It gives me hope for the industry that, no matter what comes their way, you've got the right people to actually overcome those challenges.

Ruggless, NRN: How have you dealt with the ensuing supply-chain challenges?

Moralejo, Dine Brands: It's a massive concern, whether it's restaurant equipment or availability of products. I actually think, somewhat ironically, international is better positioned to deal with challenges because they're used to it.

McDaniel, Little Caesars: I think the international sites are much more flexible.  You know, if we start running into the container didn't make it in time, it's amazing how we can quickly come up with a solution to keep the stores open, right? And it's going to meet our food-safety requirements and everything.  We've got the contingencies figured out. … I think internationally, we're a little bit more flexible.

Ruggless, NRN: How about for Focus Brands?  Anything you see on the horizon supply-chain-wise that you're especially concerned about?

Eudy, Focus Brands: Yeah, everything.  But just to add on, I think our international franchisees are a lot scrappier.  They're a lot closer to the business. They're used to getting down in the weeds, so to speak, if they have to. And I hadn't thought about how the domestic franchisees have reacted to not getting fryers and knives and all these other things. But, you know, I think, internationally, opening restaurants has always been a challenge. And that's a challenge they embraced.

Rosenberg Bittorf, TGI Friday’s: I would echo the equipment.  The equipment has been a hold-up for us. Equipment is killer right now. … We hear quotes of, like, 22 months on equipment.

Ruggless, NRN: I thank you all so much for your time today. 

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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