Bob Evans Farms is bringing back its signature "Down on the farm" jingle last seen in its marketing in the mid-1990s as the beleagured restaurant chain revamps its menu and focuses on the lunch and dinner daypart to revive flagging sales.
The push is part of a larger movement at the company to stress its farm roots, which comes at a time when consumers are embracing more natural, clean and organic foods both in supermarkets and restaurants.
In its earnings call on Wednesday, Bob Evans Farms reported that same-store sales at its restaurants declined 4.3% in its first fiscal quarter of 2017, as restaurant sales fell 7.7% to $220.4 million. Conversely its retail foods business -- mainly sausage and side dishes like mashed potatoes -- saw a sales increase to $85.9 million, up 3.5% from a year earlier.
The disparity has caused activist investor Tom Sandell to suggest a breakup of the company, arguing that the food division might be worth more than the company as a whole, according to Nation's Restaurant News.
The chain has 527 restaurants in 18 states, but the highest concentration is in Ohio, where it was founded by a farmer named Bob Evans and where it still operates the original farm. The jingle was created in 1961 when the company ran spots with Mr. Evans asking people to come visit his farm.
Chris Lambrix, the company's senior VP-business development and consumer marketing, said the decision to bring back the jingle was motivated by a desire to stress the company's heritage of hospitality. "Most brands are trying to establish their authenticity and some have questionable authenticity. Ours is unquestionable. We were started by a real guy on a real farm."
He added: "We found over the last few years in talking to consumers that it was incredibly memorable for them and representative of who they thought Bob Evans was as a company and as a man," added Mr. Lambrix.
The company said it worked with Geometry Global in Akron on the jingle, testing several different arrangements, including bluegrass, contemporary pop and several country versions before settling on the one it is now using.
The company has also refreshed its menu to try and broaden its customer base and draw more lunch and dinner traffic -- 41% of its sales in the last quarter came from breakfast, said President-CEO Saed Mohseni on last week's earnings call. In addition to a redesign of the physical menu, and adding items like the reintroduced Farm Boy Sandwich and burger topped with an egg, Bob Evan is giving consumers the option to add a soup or salad and a dessert to their meal for $2.
The menu was tested in Toledo for 18 months, and brought in younger guests and lighter users, said Mr. Mohseni, in addition to improving guest comments.
Bob Evans is also running a spot for a limited-time turkey dinner promotion with a spot from MMB Boston, said Sara Bittorf, senior VP-chief marketing officer for the restaurants division, but the new menu won't be advertised beyond some direct mail. She added that in the turkey spot the company committed to using real servers rather than actors as part of its authencity push.
What will be advertised is the company's side dish line, which Mr. Mohseni said on the call will get a $1.2 million ad infusion in markets beyond Bob Evans' midwest stronghold. He noted that its mashed potato line now has a 51% share of market.
Bob Evans restaurants has an uphill climb to turn around sales, but it has seen a glimmer of progress. Beginning in July, Mr. Mohseni said the chain's same-store sales "moderated" to negative 2% versus the negative 4.3% for the quarter.