Will a New 'Griller' Line Pump Up Sales?

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- In an effort to push summer sales into high gear, Burger King Corp. is preparing a major marketing effort behind the June 3 launch of its Back Porch Grillers hamburgers.

The Grillers line, originally tested last fall, introduces two new burgers, the BK Homestyle Griller and BK Smokehouse Cheddar Griller, each of which boast a third of a pound of meat (compared with the standard quarter pound) and a bakery-style bun. The patties are seasoned to give a smoky, homestyle flavor, as if prepared on a barbeque.

Outdoor taste
"In the consumer's mind, the taste of the outdoor grill was the ultimate in their taste experience," said Chris Clouser, executive vice president and chief global marketing officer for Burger King.

Supported with a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, "similar to other major menu additions," the effort is the first of the chain's summer promotional onslaught. (The other promotions are for two new salads to compete with Wendy's Garden Sansations and the July release of Sony Pitcures' Men in Black 2, which will tie in with another Griller burger.) A print ad broke in today's edition of USA Today and nine TV spots roll out June 2. Amoeba, Los Angeles, created one 30-second and two 15-second general market spots. Six multicultural spots were handled by Bromley Communications, San Antonio, and Uniworld, New York.

The burgers,

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which will be added to the permanent menu next week, were designed with loyal fast-food burger eaters in mind.

"People that are heavy users like product variety and depth," said Dan Fitzpatrick, chairman, president-CEO of Quality Dining, one of the franchisees who tested the burger line. The tests drew double-digit traffic growth, Mr. Clouser said. "We saw increases about 15% without cannibalizing our other burgers," he added.

Casual-dining experience
Burger King executives dismiss the notion that the chain is playing catch-up with Carl's Jr., which last year introduced a Six Dollar Burger that touts the quality of a casual-dining burger at a fast-food price.

What may be driving the proliferating burger selection is the influence of the so-called burgeoning "fast-casual" restaurant segment, said Bob Sandelman, president of restaurant consultant Sandelman & Associates.

"It appeals to older consumers with more money [who are] willing to pay for a better experience," he said. "That's probably a key reason why fast-casual and [ethnic-flavored] products are expanding and doing so well because they can target a baby boomer consumer more easily."

New grilling system
Burger King accelerated the rollout despite only 700 of the chain's 8,248 domestic units have installed the new grilling system needed for the thicker burgers. At restaurants using older broilers, the Griller burgers will be built using two patties with the new seasonings recipe until 90% of units have the new grills, roughly 12 to 14 months from now.

Company officials contend that consumers won't notice much difference in the flavor or chew between the single- or double-patty sandwiches.

"We larned we were just as capable [of achieving the same qualities] with two patties," said Mr. Fitzpatrick, who likened the flavor to that of a grilled steak.

At least one insider is skeptical that the chain won't run into the same problems McDonald's suffered with its new kitchen, which slowed service and fell short on improving quality.

"The best way to replicate the single patty is the double patty, and it does taste good, but not as good as the original [single patty]," the insider said.

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