Back in the mid '90s -- the last time QSRs were engaged in a pricing war -- Burgerville made a strategic decision to differentiate itself by moving to a menu that heavily emphasizes fresh, locally sourced ingredients and diversity (salmon salads, not just burgers), at prices somewhat higher than its fast-food competitors.
That positioning -- reflecting Northwesterners' sustainability bent long before the current green zeitgeist took hold -- has paid off over the years, says CEO Jeff Harvey. But with growing numbers of diners now shifting from fine and casual dining to QSRs, the chain, which has a core demographic of 30 to 60 year olds, is now looking to capitalize by attracting more 20- to-30-year-olds.
"We hadn't focused on pursuing a younger age group up to this point, but with more consumers moving to quick-service restaurants to be kinder on their wallets -- yet not wanting to sacrifice on the quality of their food -- we saw an opportunity," Harvey says.
Rather than lower prices to woo the younger set (the chain's average meal ticket for an entrée, side and beverage is $8.50), Burgerville has introduced a program that further plays up its local sourcing/quality positioning. Starting last month and continuing through 2009, the chain is offering two "gourmet seasonal" menu items per month.
Each month's special entrée and side dish will reflect an ingredient that's in season during those weeks, and go off the menu at the end of that period. (For instance, this month's gourmet entrée is a grilled rosemary chicken sandwich, and the side is rosemary shoestring potatoes.)
To get the message out to the younger demos, Burgerville launched a tongue-in-cheek campaign that relies on exaggeration. (Sample commercial copy: "Exactly how good are the new seasonal dishes at Burgerville this month? Well, to avoid hyperbole, let me just put it this way: These dishes are so unique and different tasting, they're the reason aliens are visiting this planet ...")
In addition to radio and some 15-second TV spots on stations geared to the target demos, outdoor billboards and in-store signage/posters, Burgerville is on the social media case. Its Facebook page has drawn over 7,600 friends since launching in October, and it has attracted 600 followers since it established a Twitter presence in January.
"We set aggressive goals, and a couple of months into this program, we're seeing double the sales we'd projected," reports Harvey. Follow-up research with diners is also confirming the desired growth in the 20-to-30 customer base, he says.