Buffets Inc. Puts $32 Million Account Up for Review

Owner of Old Country Buffet Set to Drop Agency Schafer Condon Carter During Tough Time for Category

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Buffets Inc., which last year shelled out $32 million on measured media for its portfolio of restaurant brands including Old Country Buffett and Roadhouse Grill, is seeking a new agency for its creative-advertising account. The review comes during a tough time for the buffet category, which has seen sliding sales despite the recession.

The agency is said to be hearing pitches from Interpublic's Campbell-Mithun, Minneapolis, and Omnicom's TraceyLocke, Dallas, and Element 79, Chicago.

The incumbent, Chicago independent Schafer Condon Carter, is not defending the business. Schafer was originally hired in early 2009 to handle the Ryan's chain, and it eventually expanded the relationship to include all of the company's brands.

But, in June, Buffets brought in a new marketing chief, Monte Jump, who had previously served as VP-marketing for the Carrabba's Italian Grill and Golden Corral chains, and -- as often happens -- the CMO change didn't bode well for the agency.

Neither, presumably, did a brutal climate for the buffet category, which has fared even worse than the moribund casual-dining category as a whole, said Darren Tristano, exec VP of Technomic, the food industry research and consulting firm.

He notes that sales in the buffet category fell by 8% last year, dragged down by a disproportionate number of closures.

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