Any commandos looking for near-term work in the Miami area? Some of us are considering a raid on Burger King’s headquarters to rescue the chain’s menu-development team. Management must be working them 24/7 to get the sort of product output we’ve been seeing, and the volume is about to increase with the rollout of several new breakfast items.
Those additions will include a new muffin sandwich and a breakfast bowl, according to executives of Carrols Corp., the chain’s largest franchisee and a likely sympathizer with our mission. In talking with investors today, the officials indicated they’re not exactly overjoyed with the products pouring out of the franchisor’s test kitchens.
Indeed, analysts were advised during the conference call that Carrols can’t provide them with a general outlook for its Burger King restaurants because of “uncertainty regarding the impact of new product introductions,” in the words of CFO Paul Flanders.
He and his colleagues explained that next in the staging area for BK are a number of higher-priced items, including ribs and additions to the XT premium burger line. Although Carrols is “cautiously optimistic” about the sales prospects for those additions, the ka-ching may not be as loud as BK hopes because of tight consumer spending and widespread discounting by competitors, said president Dan Accordino.
Carrols noted that its BK units were selling only 24 Steak House XT burgers a day, though supporting advertising had yet to begin. Still, “I’m not certain that the units are going to be terribly significant,” said Flanders.
That’s not to say aggressive discounting has worked well for BK, either, Accordino remarked. He cited the chain’s controversial $1 double cheeseburger, a product other franchisees have slammed as a giveaway that costs them money.
The bargain-priced item isn’t delivering sustained sales, contrary to the chain’s hopes, Accordino explained. Orders have tapered off since the deal was introduced last fall, with comp sales at Carrols’ BK units falling about 8% year-over-year during the first six weeks of 2010, the stock analysts learned.
Even with that decline, the $1 double accounts for 10% of sales at Carrol’s BK units. However, “while we're selling a lot of sandwiches, our incidence of drink and fry add-ons is not that high, making the gross profit contribution less appealing than we had hoped,” Accordino said.
That’s on top of the margin damage fellow franchisees had feared, he indicated.
The assessment is damning for BK because Carrols was one of the franchisees that remained loyal to the home office after fellow licensees sued to kill the double deal. The franchisor eventually agreed to reformulate the sandwich, taking out a slice of cheese and holding the $1 price. The true double cheeseburger (two patties, two slices of cheese) is being repriced at $1.19.
That overhaul will bring the $1 sandwich’s food cost below 50%, said Carrols CEO Alan Vituli. More importantly, he suggested, the $1.19 double cheeseburger might wean customers off what BK has termed “extreme affordability.”
“What we’re experiencing is that extreme affordability is converting too many of our core customers to extreme bargain seekers with no interest in looking beyond the extreme market,” Vituli said.