Arby's adds adult-focused foods

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Arby's is beefing up its menu with convenient casual dining items for people who think they've outgrown fast-food.

The Triarc Restaurant Group chain is testing a trio of appetizers called Sidekickers, and a new deli-style sandwich line. To help differentiate from the pack of quick service restaurants, the $2.3 billion chain is offering mozzarella sticks, fried jalapeno bites and onion petals priced at $1.79 to $3.89 -- the sort of fare typically found at casual dining chains like Brinker International's Chili's Bar & Grill and Metromedia Restaurant Group's Bennigan's.

DELI SANDWICHES

Capitalizing on the popularity of deli meats, Arby's is also testing "market fresh" deli sandwiches served on thick-cut honey wheat bread and dressed with red onions and mustard caesar dressing. The four sandwiches come in roast beef and swiss; roast ham and swiss; roast turkey and swiss; and roast chicken caesar varieties.

"They've driven a high percent of sales and received high product ratings," said Lloyd Fritzmeier, president of Arby's Franchise Association. Priced between $3.49 and $3.99, the sandwich line puts Arby's in a more favorable competitive position against bread chains such as St. Louis Bread Co.'s Panera and Atlanta Bread Co. International.

A new $6 million to $8 million campaign for the appetizers -- part of Arby's overall $66 million effort -- kicks off in July under the new brand tag "Arby's. Now that your tastes have grown up." The 30-second spot from Doner, Southfield, Mich., explains "There's a reason ordinary fast-food restaurants don't have appetizers. Their customers have no idea what they are." The payoff comes with the visual of befuddled kids. The ads will be run on local spot TV.

"It works really well with the adult positioning," said Mr. Fritzmeier, who added that the items also reinforce the chain's high-quality fast-food positioning. The chain rolled out its new adult-focused strategy in March, backed by a branding campaign featuring "Home Improvement" actress Patricia Richardson as the voice talent. The adult tag replaced Arby's star-studded spots that asked "Love food? Think Arby's."

After 18 months of testing in 10 markets, the snacks earned a spot on the permanent menu. At first, chain executives feared the appetizers would cannibalize french fry sales. Instead, people bought the items as sides to sandwiches often in addition to fries and as mid-afternoon snacks. As a result, same-store sales increased, mostly from new users. "It kind of created another daypart for us," said Scott Lippitt, exec VP-group account director at Doner.

Inspired by these early results, Arby's may experiment with soups and salads later in the year.

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