Could Marketing Save the Fast-Casual Industry?
The past few years have been kind to the fast-casual dining segment. In fact, fast-casual dining was crowned the strongest growing segment across the foodservice industry, increasing $3.4 billion globally from 2014 to 2015.
Though recent studies have shown this wave of popularity might not be here to stay. New research from AlixPartners, shows that frequent customers of fast-casual restaurants (at least two visits a week) plan to cut back their visits by 13% in the next 12 months. In the wake of this significant slowdown, fast-casual executives are looking for answers.
According to the research, 44% of frequent consumers surveyed accredited the reason for less visits is due to an increased effort to eat healthier. With the surge of ready-to-eat foods, meal kit services, and online grocery shopping, dining at home options have become more appealing, giving the fast-casual sector stiff competition. Here’s a look at how 3 popular fast-casual brands leverage marketing tactics to reach consumers, promote healthy offerings and encourage visits.
- Burger King – “Ok Google, what is the Whopper burger?” – Fifteen seconds may be too short for a commercial ad, unless you have Google to finish your sentence. The fast-food burger chain leveraged Google’s voice-activated smart speakers by asking this simple question through the TV. Any Google Home device within earshot of the TV would subsequently rattle off the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry: “the Whopper is a flame-grilled patty made with 100% real beef with no preservatives or fillers topped with tomatoes, onion, lettuce…” While some may see this marketing maneuver as intrusive, Burger King did get its wholesome burger messaging across, while surprising a few in the process.
- Chipotle Mexican Grill – “As Real As It Gets” – What happens when three famous comedians walk into a burrito? Things get real. The Mexi-fast food chain launched a new campaign starring Jillian Bell, John Mulaney and Sam Richardson with the goal to challenge the conventions of fast-food advertising by being completely real, like their ingredients. After overhauling its food preparation techniques, training, and ingredients, the still-recovering Chipotle hopes the new campaign will assure consumers that its food is real and safe to eat.
- Carl’s Jr. and Hardees – “It’s Food, Not Boobs” – After years of notoriously sexy commercials featuring barely-clothed supermodels, Carl’s Jr. and Hardees has brought a new character in the picture: Carl Hardee Sr. The ball-busting, eye-on-the-prize father is back to take control. Steering to a new, more modest, food-focused approach, the chain-duo is using their, perceivably distasteful, past as the butt of the joke. In the ad, Carl Hardee Sr. attributes the sexist ads to Carl Jr.’s “wild oats,” before reminding consumers of the chain’s historical milestones. While they may laugh at the past, the chain isn’t apologizing. CKE Chief Marketing Officer Brad Haley said their past campaigns were very successful, but now they must turn their focus to a health-, ingredient- and quality-focused consumer who until this point, was unaware of the chain’s all-natural product offerings.
While fast-casual consumers are predicting less visits, we also know that the majority of consumers (57%) say they intend to eat out at roughly the same frequency in 2017 as they did last year. So let’s take a tip from these chains who are deploying smart, consumer-focused marketing campaigns that tap into consumers’ desire for menu transparency, food quality and healthy, natural offerings with honesty and humor.
About Julie LePere:
As a Senior Account Executive in Padilla’s New York office, Julie offers public relations and marketing counsel to several clients in the Food & Beverage Practice. Julie provides administrative support, program planning and social media management for the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. She manages the foodservice program of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, in addition to offering support and coordination to the B&W Grower Watercress foodservice and consumer programs.