BOSTON MARKET TO SLICE MARKETING BY $40 MIL: TURNAROUND EFFORT ALSO INCLUDES LIMITED-TIME, VALUE-PRICE ITEMS

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Boston Chicken's ailing Boston Market chain is cutting some $40 million out of its overall marketing budget for 1998, part of a turnaround effort that includes trimming costs and streamlining operations.

The company also is adopting a new strategy of featuring limited-time-only products, with one new entree to be introduced each quarter next year.

The new products, which will have a value price, will be supported with ads from Suissa Miller, Los Angeles, under the umbrella theme introduced last summer, "The food's always better at the Market. Boston Market."

SPLITS WITH GOLDBERG

Last week, Boston Market said it officially has severed all ties with Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco, as expected (AA, Sept. 29). Goldberg had been handling creative for the chain's test of take-out food, now in two units in Charlotte, N.C. That work has been shifted to Suissa.

The chain, with 1,189 restaurants, spent between $120 million and $130 million on marketing this year, and plans to spend $80 million to $90 million in 1998, a spokesman said.

According to Competitive Media Reporting, Boston Market received $90 million in measured media advertising in 1996 and $86 million through the first eight months of this year.

The ad cuts are part of previously announced repositioning efforts to put the focus on the concept's core business of selling home-style meals to time-pressed consumers.

A coupon-driven discounting program featuring whole roast chickens for $1 and a new sandwich line aimed at fast-food lovers earlier this year helped throw the company off course, officials have acknowledged.

SALES STABILIZING?

Those programs led to one of the worst plunges in same-store sales for a restaurant company in recent memory: For the third quarter ended Oct. 5, sales were down 20% from the same period a year ago, according to industry analysts.

Boston Chicken said sales have started to improve.

Jeff Beckman, director of public relations for Boston Market, said the cuts will mean less airtime for the brand, but not as much as might appear thanks to intense efforts to be more efficient with the ads.

The brand will still be on network TV and cable, with added network radio in 1998, Mr. Beckman said.

ALLOCATIONS

Boston Market allocates 4% of restaurant sales to local advertising and 2% to national.

"We had been spending above that level to buy more national visibility," he said. "As we transitioned our strategy to focus on operations and being as effective as possible, we determined in the second half to slow ad spending."

Candidates for the limited-time-only promotions, which have been in test, include shepherd's pie, Southwest chicken, chicken teriyaki and barbecue chicken

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