If you’ve walked into a Moe’s Southwest Grill, it’s safe to say you’ve been enthusiastically greeted. It’s a key component of the Moe’s concept: a high-energy, fun experience that works well with families, groups, and friends. From that first “Welcome to Moe’s!” the guest continues on to build their burrito, taco, salad, or other entrée with a crew member, and finishes it off at the free fresh salsa bar—a second key component of the Moe’s concept.

When it comes to limited-time offers at Moe’s, those concepts don’t change. Alan Magee, director of brand marketing at Moe’s, says LTO development is designed around its customer experience, and the 700-unit-plus chain’s energy and interaction with its guests has led to a big LTO payoff.

What does Moe’s LTO strategy look like?

We run about three big promotions per year. They range from two to six months. We go through an LTO testing process, then launch our LTOs to help drive traffic and increase awareness, as well as give our fans new flavors and new ways to use our brand.

How does that testing process work?

The chefs in our test kitchen might say, “Hey, we want to bring something new to burritos.” We test those concepts, which are essentially paper at the time, through concept screeners. Our chefs develop the most appealing ideas. We do an internal taste test and trial, then take the concept to research to have our fans taste and tell us what they want. We put that into market and run it in around 30 stores, to see how it performs from an operational standpoint. We run intercepts, go in-market, talk to the managers, and talk to the crews. If the item performs well on multiple measures, like sales and marketability, we put it on the marketing calendar.

What do you hope to achieve with your LTOs?

We want our fans to have a new way to engage with the brand. What we’ve learned in research is that our Moe’s fans are adventurous eaters. They like spice, heat, and trying new flavors. We’ve taken that and asked how we can expand our customers’ palates.

What do you think your customers are looking for with your LTOs?

They’re looking for new products to try, but also new ways to enhance their current favorite. Three times a year we change up our salsa bar. Our fans really love our salsas. When you look at social media, that’s what the fans say: “Can you bring back the Scorpion Pepper?” or “That mango salsa was great from two years ago.” They use the salsa with their chips, but they also put the salsa in their burrito or in their bowl, so the LTO is not always about the entrée for us.

What are some LTOs that have been especially successful?

The Three Amigos Tacos have been especially successful this year, really revamping the taco line for us. It’s a change from the typical to a street-style flavor, and when you order the tacos you get chicken, steak, and carnitas. If the fan is a chicken lover, now they get to try the pork carnitas and say, “Wow! These carnitas are great!” The other two that have been big wins in 2018 are the Carolina Reaper salsa and the Ahhhhhvocado salsa.

Have you had any LTOs that ended up sticking around?

Yes. Our Stack started out as an LTO a couple years ago. We ran it for like five months, then took it away, and our fans went out in arms and said, “We love the Stack. Bring it back!” I see that more as a trend with us trying stuff. When it works, it sticks, and we’re adding it to the menu.

We’ve done Chili con Queso for the last three years, usually in the first quarter. LTOs for us don’t always have to be a big product; they can be building on the equity of something we already have and fans already love. They’re going to figure out new and unique ways to use it as they’re building their meal. Our LTOs show our fans new ways to eat at Moe’s.

What kind of failures have you had?

There are always failures. It’s test and learn. A product that we promoted in 2016 was our Ancho Lime Bowl. People were just not ordering it, but when it came to the product, people fell in love with the Cilantro-Lime Rice that was featured in the bowl and started adding it to all their usual products. We kept the rice, so you can say it was a success, even though it didn’t perform as we wanted.

Menu Innovations, Story, Moe's Southwest Grill