Web Exclusive | March 2013 | By Keith Loria

The King’s Evolution

Burger King’s brand overhaul moves into its next phase.

Burger King rolled out new coffee and donut options as part of a menu change.
Burger King's new menu changes have included coffee and donut hole products.
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Burger King made waves in 2012 when it overhauled its marketing and menu items in an effort to compete more directly with competitors like McDonald’s and Wendy’s.

Turns out the brand wasn’t done with its evolution. In the last month, Burger King has refreshed its menu even further, a move that has included a new coffee program, a value-menu update, and product rollouts like the Turkey Burger LTO.

The new coffee program could prove to be the strongest long-term strategy, a direct play for the growing customer base turning to quick serves for their morning pick-me-up.

The company revamped its coffee line by enlisting Seattle’s Best Coffee to deliver 10 new coffee flavors, including roast coffees, flavored ice coffees, and lattes.

“Over the past several months, we tested numerous blends and specialty coffee product offerings to perfect the new coffee platform at Burger King,” says Eric Hirschhorn, vice president of global innovation for Burger King Worldwide, in an e-mail to QSR. “Based on extensive consumer feedback and multi-market testing in a joint effort with our experienced partner Seattle’s Best Coffee, Burger King is proud to launch its extensive line of 10 new great-tasting coffee beverages custom-blended for our guests to enjoy.”

“Cobranding with an established, experienced partner in Seattle’s Best brings immediate credibility and brand awareness to the offering.”

Seattle’s Best Coffee, a wholly owned subsidiary of Starbucks, provides coffee for several other quick serves, including Subway and Taco Bell. For its partnership, however, Burger King required something unique to the brand.

Among the flavors introduced is a custom, 100 percent Latin American Arabica blend that was crafted exclusively for Burger King. Customers can also order the Arabica blend as an iced coffee in a variety of flavors, like vanilla, mocha, or caramel. 

“We know how important coffee is to Burger King guests, and we’re focused on giving them a great cup—whether it’s iced or hot, morning or night,” says Jennifer Dimaris, Seattle’s Best Coffee’s vice president of brand management. “That’s why we put more than 40 years of experience to work and used extensive testing to create a new coffee menu that is just right for Burger King guests.”

As an incentive to get customers to try its new blend, Burger King rolled out a 25-cent deal for a 12-ounce cup in its first month.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based food consultancy Technomic, says Burger King’s new coffee rollout gives customers good reason to try a cup.

“Cobranding with an established, experienced partner in Seattle’s Best brings immediate credibility and brand awareness to the offering,” Tristano says. “Creating a special blend of Arabica coffee creates an offer that is promoted as unique, where consumers can only get it at BK, versus Taco Bell and Subway, who also offer Seattle’s Best coffee.”

Burger King is also refocusing its efforts with its value menu. In the wake of McDonald’s and Wendy’s expanding their dollar menus over the past six months, Burger King launched a limited-time $1.29 Whopper Jr. The aggressive move is consistent with the company’s strategy since its 2010 acquisition by 3G Capital of featuring a mix of low-price and premium-priced offerings.

“Our planning is ongoing, as we constantly strive to implement new innovation campaigns and strategies for the Burger King brand that will appeal to new and existing guests,” Hirschhorn says. “We believe in listening to our guests first and foremost and have spent the past months evaluating our plans for the Burger King menu based on their feedback.”

A great deal of that feedback came from value-conscious consumers who want a little more bang for their buck. Because today’s fast-food operators are faced with rising costs and stiff competition, finding a number that works for both parties is more difficult, Hirschhorn says. That’s why the dollar menu has evolved to align more with value rather than a strict price point. 

“With commodity price hikes looming large for the restaurant industry, shifting price points from $1 to a more realistic $1.29 price will allow consumers to continue to find affordable options on the menu,” Tristano says. “The move also allows franchisees to keep a margin and support maintaining profits.”

It remains to be seen how Burger King’s latest menu addition—an LTO Burger Fest menu with 12 new items, like the Turkey Burger, the Veggie Burger, the Chipotle Whopper Sandwich, and Donut Holes—resonates with customers and franchisees. But Hirschhorn is confident in the brand’s new direction.

“The Burger King brand is constantly creating new and innovative menu items with our guests in mind,” he says. “We are always striving to provide delicious options that our guests will be excited about. The brand regularly rotates limited-time offerings seasonally to meet consumer demand and changing tastes.”