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The Menu Innovator
J. Clifford Hudson has led Oklahoma City-based quick-service chain Sonic Drive-In as its CEO for the past 22 years. During that time Sonic has grown to more than 3,500 units and led the way in soft-drink innovation — a customization play that Hudson cites as a factor in drawing a disproportionate number of Millennial customers. Sonic also has carried out culinary innovations during Hudson’s tenure, including the introduction of hot dogs. Last year, Sonic took a bold move by testing a premium “blended burger,” made with 25 percent to 30 percent mushrooms blended with ground beef.
Known for: Hudson has been expanding the long-standing quick-service burger chain and bringing it into the 21st century.
Power move: Sonic is leading culinary development in quick-service burgers with the testing last summer of a premium blended burger, partially made with mushrooms.
What’s next: Hudson has quietly created a leadership team that is unusually diverse for the industry, with most of his senior officials either women or ethnic minorities. Sonic is also testing order ahead.