While Jay Livingston’s favorite order at Shake Shack is a chicken sandwich, fries and a coffee shake, he knows plenty of customers are eager for more veggie options.
That’s why, as the company’s first chief marketing officer, he’s hopeful for what he dubs the chain’s “next-generation veggie product.”
Brands such as Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are generating plenty of buzz and partnerships with the likes of larger chains including Burger King and Carl’s Jr., respectively. Livingston hints that Shake Shack, which has sold a cheese-stuffed fried Portobello mushroom sandwich called the Shroom Burger for years, is looking to offer a different kind of vegetarian meal.
“I think we’re going to keep an eye on that, but the meat substitute is not as interesting to us right now,” Livingston says on the latest episode of Ad Age’s Marketer’s Brief podcast. “We’re really interested in creating, like a veggie experience that people are super excited about.”
The new veggie item would likely be something that is all-natural and doesn’t contain too many ingredients, he says.
“We’re kind of figuring out what that might look like right now,” says Livingston.
And once it is ready, after testing at the company’s innovation kitchen in New York, there will be many more locations where Shake Shack can add it to the menu. The chain, which went public in 2015, has expanded well beyond its roots as a hot dog stand in New York’s Madison Square Park to become one of the fastest-growing burger chains.
Shake Shack is now on track to open 56 to 60 locations this year, a combination of company-owned and licensed locations, up from a prior forecast of 52 to 56 openings in 2019. Sales jumped 31 percent in the recent second quarter, with same-store sales—or as Shake Shack calls them, “same-Shack sales”—up 3.6 percent.
Shake Shack is now the 90th largest restaurant chain in the United States, with U.S. sales of nearly $460 million in 2018, according to Technomic. Still, it’s tiny in the burger world, where McDonald’s U.S. systemwide sales topped $38.5 billion last year.
When Livingston joined Shake Shack after serving as CMO of Bark and a career in marketing at Bank of America, he spent his early days working in the restaurants.
“That grill is tough,” Livingston says Livingston says of smashing the burger patties. “My abs were actually sore the next day from leaning over and pushing those down. That was definitely the hottest work there.”
Livingston says he is looking to hire more people to join a team of 35 to 40 marketers. He wants to keep as much of the marketing work internal as possible, even as Shake Shack aims to add hundreds more restaurants beyond the 240 or so that are currently open in the U.S. and international markets.
He’d also like to keep paid media to a minimum. Shake Shack prefers to promote itself with collaborations, such as its Game of Thrones burger and shake earlier this year, and with localized offerings tailored to each market.
Shake Shack will also begin marketing its recently announced delivery partnership with Grubhub on both company’s platforms. , which is rolling out over the next several months.
“We’re excited about being able to use that data, and turn around and customize and personalize at a level we really haven’t been able to do before through the delivery channel,” Livingston says about the Grubhub pact.