Industry News | September 28, 2011

Q&A with Arby's President Hala Moddelmog

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Hala Moddelmog, president of Arby's, spoke to QSR about the launch of her company's new-look, healthier kids' menu, as well as its work with Share Our Strength's "No Kid Hungry" campaign.

 

Why is now the time for Arby’s to unveil a new kids’ menu?

We’ve been working on it for some time, as usual. When we started doing our last round of consumer research, we really focused on moms. The moms told us that they wanted some healthier choices available, and the apples and the yogurt sauce were definitely popular items, so that was a no-brainer to get that in there.

Simultaneously, we were taking a strategic look at our Foundation. The Arby’s Foundation is 25 years old and has done tremendous work over the years, but we wanted to make sure that what we focused on next was really tied to what our consumers cared about. We did that research, and childhood hunger in America came up very high on the list, especially with some of these moms that we were targeting. We loved the synergy of having a good kids’ meal that the moms would like and the kids would like, and letting the moms and the rest of our consumers be able to contribute to “No Kid Hungry” and this hunger movement through this.

One of the things I liked about it as a mother … is having a chance to have an object lesson with your children while you’re eating. You might be able to say to your child something to the affect of, “We’re very fortunate and can come and have a kids’ meal at Arby’s and all that, but there are some children in our country who are not so fortunate and go hungry. By us participating in the Arby’s kids’ meal and the Arby’s ‘No Kid Hungry’ campaign, we’re helping other children be able to not go hungry.”

 

What kind of pressures was Arby’s facing to roll out healthier menu items for kids?

Here’s the good news about Arby’s, is our customers for years have been telling us that they feel better about eating Arby’s, because Arby’s is roast beef, freshly sliced; it’s not a greasy, fried burger—no offense to burgers. So our customers have been telling us for a long time that they feel a little better about eating Arby’s, they feel a little lighter, they feel a little healthier, a little more balanced with an Arby’s purchase. So we had a bit of an advantage, I think, in that area.

What we really wanted to do is—there is an awful lot of focus in the world on healthier eating and a balanced diet and that kind of thing—we just wanted to make sure that we call that out for our moms and kids.

 

With the size of the Arby’s system, what did the company do to position itself to be able to support this menu change?

Our franchisees, to their credit, are very much in favor of having a balanced kids’ meal that they feel good about. They also have responded very well to the “No Kid Hungry” campaign and realize the synergy there. We know with 3,600 restaurants, rolling out anything new is a feat, but part of what we tried to do with the kids’ meal is really keep it simple for our operators. So the apple slices and yogurt come in prepackaged and ready to go, and the Macaroni & Cheese is in a format that is easy to deliver. The milk is in its own cute little bottle that’s easy for children to handle. So we tried to keep it as simple for the operators as possible. Kids seem to respond to that type of eating, where they can see things separated on a plate, at least that’s what I remember my kids liking.

 

What can we expect from Arby’s nutritional development in the future?

We have a line right now called Market Fresh, and some of those sandwiches tend to be lighter. We are looking at that line; we’d like to introduce some new products in Market Fresh that would potentially have fewer calories and less fat. [Customers] have got to have, must have, and we’re going to deliver exciting taste that they can feel good about every day at Arby’s. There’s no doubt that exciting taste has got to come first. When we introduce new products, or take a look at new products, I think just like the rest of the industry, we’re certainly taking a look at the nutritionals and making sure that we have something for everyone.

 

What kind of support for the “No Kid Hungry” campaign should we expect to see in Arby’s stores?

We’ll have in the stores the classic pin-ups, where a person can donate a dollar and have their name signed and pinned up on the wall. We’ll have a bit of the cost of the kids’ meal going to “No Kid Hungry.” And then we’re going to have some literature available for people that really explains the magnitude of the situation.

I for one will tell you that until we got involved with “No Kid Hungry,” I didn’t really recognize the magnitude of the number of children who are food insecure. This doesn’t mean that they don’t eat all week or something like that, but picture this: There are a lot children in America who are on the free lunch program and that is great during the school year, but during the summer, where do these kids get their food? One of the things we want to help do with No Kid Hungry is activate feeding sites in the summer that are accessible for the children so that they can get food then. The other thing is there are a lot of children who quality for free breakfast as well as free lunch, but there is sometimes a stigma about going into the lunchroom for breakfast because everybody kind of knows that that’s the free breakfast and not everybody goes there. So some of the children will forgo that because they don’t want to have to admit that they’re hungry.

The other thing about it is … a child who is hungry certainly cannot function as well in school, they feel tired, they feel lethargic, they act out, sometimes they are just not themselves, so their education suffers. We’re trying to hit that first line of defense so that they can have calories and have their energy to learn, because at the end of the day, we must have a society that can learn and help us all grow. We feel like this is a pretty broad mission.