If you could sum it up, why do you think the Smokehouse Chicken resonated so strongly with consumers?
There is simply nothing like it in the marketplace today. Smokehouse Chicken is marinated in a savory, smoky seasoning and then cooked for 18 minutes. It is then glazed again with our signature bourbon black pepper sauce which deepens all the unique flavor notes. We believe in value, and value with Smokehouse is that you are getting an incredible tasting chicken that you can’t find anywhere else, alongside mashed potatoes and a made-from-scratch honey butter biscuit for just $5. It just makes you hungry thinking about it.
As the company noted in the release, positive guest counts are a rare achievement in today’s industry, not just quick service. What are some ways Church’s has been able to generate traffic, despite all the headwinds brands are facing?
We began a mission to help guests rediscover us. We prioritized driving broader awareness and ownable differentiation, leading with our food. We set our chefs loose with new flavor profiles and invested in operations that improved our service times and customer satisfaction. Our franchisees supported our investments in innovation. Along the way, our team members became reenergized about the brand and our employees have carried the positive momentum every day.
Has the success of the Smokehouse Chicken platform surprised Church’s internally?
We knew that our guests loved Smokehouse Chicken. When we launched this platform previously, we received overwhelming positive guest feedback. Guests gave us permission to innovate around even more flavors, so we launched Bourbon Black Pepper. Guests couldn’t get enough of it and we actually ran out of it in some markets So, this year, we took a different approach and brought this fan-favorite craveable item back for an extended window. All of this has led to generating some of our best sales ever for an LTO product.
Talk about the TV campaign and why it’s been so effective. How did Church’s change its media strategy to drive awareness and inspire frequency? The chicken category is one of the most competitive there is, and clearly Church’s found a powerful lever.
This is a case of message meets medium. We married a great product message delivered in our new culinary-focused advertising campaign along with a fully integrated media plan that allowed us to be seen by more people in a variety of targeted, diverse formats. This has helped attract existing guests and introduce the brand to new guests.
Specifically, speak to the change in consumer behavior in Phoenix, where summer traffic typically lagged other seasons.
Typically, in particular markets like Phoenix during the summer where seasonality is low, we had historically experienced lower guest frequency. This year, the growth in transactions from Smokehouse Chicken is the key driver to markets like Phoenix, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and others through an enhanced media approach that has continued building momentum since we first launched earlier this summer.
Getting into the omni-channel approach, how did Church’s broaden its message to reach new guests as well as speak to loyal ones? What mediums have been particularly effective?
We implemented a new omni-channel approach with both broad reach vehicles like TV and radio, paired with highly targeted digital media. The digital media has been very effective in driving trackable “in-restaurant” visits which is how the campaign is measured and optimized over time. We are seeing who has been exposed to our digital ads and then how many messages and what messages trigger a visit. Then it’s repeat and optimize. The engagement from both digital and social channels has been above the brand average in multiple metrics. The goal is to ensure our message is in front of the guest when they are making a decision for lunch or dinner—whether they are at home or on the go.
So, what’s next for the brand now? How can Church’s springboard off this momentum and achieve long-term growth?
We have been in a growth period over the last few years and our momentum has continued to be very strong. What’s next is continuing that growth to become the Global Franchisor of Choice and continue to expand our presence. In fact, we are on track to open 70 new restaurants by the end of the year. We have found our voice with the new “Down Home” tagline and continue to find new and innovative ways to introduce new guests to the Church’s experience.
What’s the status of the brand refresh?
Guests are really starting to see who we are when it comes to our recently introduced marketing campaign, new packaging, and a new approach to uniforms currently in test. We continue to broaden access to our food through delivery, order ahead, and catering with the launch of the Church’s To Go platform. Stay tuned for more exciting news to come!