By Elaine Walker, Miami Herald
8:08 a.m. EDT, April 2, 2012
Burger King's efforts to win back customers and revive Miami's homegrown, iconic brand shifts into high gear Monday. Customers will find a wide range of changes covering everything from the menu to the uniforms of the employees behind the counter.
Will it be enough to get consumers to give Burger King another try? Management and franchisees are counting on it after years of declining market share that has seen Burger King lose to everyone fromMcDonald'sand Wendy's to Subway.
It starts with an ad campaign launching Monday that features a star-studded celebrity cast in one of the biggest media blitzes in Burger King's recent history. You'll find soccer player David Beckham craving a Burger King smoothie, singer Mary J. Blige grooving about the chicken snack wraps and comedian Jay Leno driving his 1967 Corvette straight through a restaurant to pick up his order.
The lineup of Burger King's 10 new menu items of salads, smoothies, snack wraps, crispy chicken strips and frappes are the co-stars of the commercials, along with the rest of the celebrity lineup, including Salma Hayek, Sofia Vergara and Steven Tyler.
"We wanted to make sure we went out with a message that caught people's attention," said Alexandre Macedo, senior vice president of marketing for North America. "The reaction we want from consumers is, 'I want to go out and taste it myself.' "
The new menu items are designed to represent a step up in quality and to offer more healthy options, seeking to broaden Burger King's consumer appeal beyond that of the young male — the traditional heavy fast-food user. In an effort to appeal more to women and children, Burger King is introducing fresh fruit smoothies in tropical mango and strawberry banana. Three kinds of fresh-made salads like one with chicken, apples, cranberries and bleu cheese are also being offered. For the mid-afternoon sugar and caffeine fix try a mocha or caramel frappe.
If these new menu items sound strikingly familiar, that's probably because you've seen many of them before at McDonald's. At least one restaurant industry analyst isn't convinced that's the right strategy.
"In the long run Burger King would be well-served to not try to be a McDonald's clone," said Mark Kalinowski, a restaurant industry analyst with Janney Capital Markets. "They have got to figure out what to do to differentiate themselves from McDonald's. You can't 'out McDonald's' McDonald's. McDonald's has a bigger advertising budget and more stores, which means they're more convenient."
But Burger King management argues that the chain is filling gaps in its menu and responding to consumer demands.
"We really believe that once people taste the products they are differentiated from our competition," said Steve Wiborg, Burger King's North American president. "These are best-in-class products. If you try our product you're going to love it and come back more often."
That's why 40 Burger King food trucks will hit the road for three months on April 16 traveling the country giving out free samples. Burger King will also be sampling its new products in restaurants and at Curves gyms nationally.
Burger King's major marketing blitz and new menu launch is an effort that has been building for nearly a year under Burger King's new owners, 3G Capital, who took over the chain in Oct. 2010. The new owners inherited a brand in need of a turnaround after years of declining sales and profits. Burger King has lost its place to Wendy's as the second-largest fast-food hamburger chain in North America and McDonald's now controls more than 50 percent of the fast-food hamburger category for the first time in its history.
It's an uphill climb for Burger King, whose North American same store sales, considered the best measure of a chain's health, ended 2011 down 3.4 percent. But those numbers have turned positive for the last four months, Wiborg said.
That improvement and the new products are fueling optimism among Burger King franchisees, whose feuds with previous management ended up in litigation.
"This is what the brand should have been doing a long time ago," said Dan Fitzpatrick, a former chairman of the National Franchisee Association and a critic of Burger King management. "I wish it would have been faster, but I think we're in a good position. I'm excited about where we're heading."
Burger King has already launched new products in the last year such as Quaker oatmeal and soft-serve ice cream. The French fries were completely revamped to a thicker cut designed to stay hot longer and even the signature Whopper got a little sprucing up. Plus, unsuccessful products like chicken fries and BK minis are off the menu.
New management has also focused for months on improving operations at the more than 7,000 U.S. restaurants, including cleanliness and food preparation. They've revamped the packaging of all food products and required franchisees to purchase new digital menu boards to hang behind the front counters, as well as new boards for the drive-through line.
And more changes are on the way, with a new program to give Burger King's restaurants a more contemporary and sleek look, both inside and out. Burger King is on track to have 1,000 restaurants remodeled over the next 12 months and 2,500 over the next three years.