CNN, CNN BUSINESS
By Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN Business
The past few years have been tough for Burger King.
Missteps during the pandemic caused the chain to lag behind its competitors. In recent quarters, Burger King has been catching up, and now the company is hoping a big investment in restaurants and advertising will help spur growth and put it ahead of its peers.
Over the next two years, Burger King, which is owned by Restaurant Brands International, plans to invest $400 million to improve the brand — $250 million will go toward modernizing restaurant tech, kitchens, and remodeling, and $150 million dollars in advertising and digital products. Franchisees will also invest in brand enhancement.
An important part of this plan? Reminds customers what Burger King is all about: The Whopper.
“What we really want to do in the near term is reintroduce America’s love affair with the Whopper,” Tom Curtis, president of Burger King North America, told CNN Business. The plan is to ensure workers are well trained in making the best possible whopper and that kitchens support consistency and ease of preparation.
The fast-food giant will also advertise its signature burger.
“I don’t think we’ve talked about it enough. I just don’t think we celebrated it enough,” Curtis said. “And I look forward to putting it back in its rightful place as our lead act.” Through advertising, Burger King wants to remind customers that the Whopper is flame-grilled and customizable. But some other tweaks might be in store, too, Curtis said.
The brand is “evaluating if there are any changes to the Whopper that could make it a better product,” he said. But the team also doesn’t want to risk messing with its most well-known offering. “[We’re] a little bit in storage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Curtis said.
What went wrong
During the pandemic, restaurants have had to quickly adapt their business models to cope with disrupted supply chains, closed dining rooms and a surge in take-out demand. Burger King hasn’t adapted very well.
“In recent years, during the pandemic and post-pandemic… [Burger King US] hasn’t done a great job of adapting our business to the environment,” RBI CEO Jose Cil told CNN Business. “We didn’t simplify.”
In the pandemic, many restaurants have been quick to slim down menus to simplify kitchen operations when delivery orders suddenly went through the roof. Workers who strive to fulfill online orders could at least avoid complicated preparations.
But Burger King did the opposite.
“We actually made things more complicated,” Cil said, “we added menu items … that were more difficult and not necessarily intuitive and typical of us to serve.”
In particular, Cil talks about the Ch’King, a hand-breaded chicken sandwich that the chain launched last year. The product “created a lot of bottlenecks operationally,” Cil said.
The problems are setting Burger King back as the competition advances. In the second quarter of this year, sales at Burger King’s U.S. restaurants open for at least 13 months grew just 0.4%. Sales at McDonald’s US restaurants open for at least 13 months rose 3.7% over the period.
Burger King recently retired the Ch’King and replaced it with the Royal Crispy Chicken Sandwich.
The Ch’King “was a great product that teams found difficult or challenging to execute,” Curtis said. “The best thing for the guest is the great taste and texture. So our Royal Crispy Chicken that we just launched offers both.”
As Burger King continues to work on other menu innovations, it must balance simplicity of execution with items that delight customers, Curtis added.
Conversions and premium upgrades
To boost sales and restaurant traffic, Burger King is making other improvements, including giving the restaurants a more modern look.
The chain plans to remodel around 800 restaurants over the next two years.
The idea is to have consistent branding but with customized layouts that make environmental sense, Curtis said. A Burger King in a city might be smaller and more focused on digital orders. In a rural town there could be more seating.
Burger King has already started updating its image. The brand has changed its logo, packaging, uniforms and signage to reflect the new look over the past year. A few years ago, it showed what remodeled restaurants might look like: three-lane drive-thrus, burger pickup lockers, and takeaway counters.
The company also wants to make it easier for customers to use the chain’s mobile app, revamp its rewards program by offering bespoke digital deals, and make deliveries and take-out orders more convenient.
The CNN Wire
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