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Perhaps no American food style is as easily recognizable across the U.S. as Southern cuisine. From biscuits to grits and barbecue to cornbread, Southern staples have become embedded in Americans’ regular dining habits.
In the limited-service industry, no brand interprets Southern food for a widespread audience as well as Bojangles’. The Charlotte, North Carolina–based chain is known for its chicken biscuits, but also dishes traditionally Southern staples like country ham, coleslaw, and grits.
Grant Springer, Bojangles’ senior director of R&D, explains how the company honors traditional Southern cooking while also pushing the cuisine into a new era.
What does your R&D process look like?
I think we have constant inspiration being in the restaurant industry, as far as trends, fads, what’s going to stick, what’s not going to stick. And then obviously we have to be conscious of where we fit in that space from a brand standpoint.
There’s no doubt that for those growing up in the South, Bojangles’ evokes a strong emotional response. It’s absolutely a part of our innovation process to ensure we continue to build upon a strong foundation of products that our long-standing customers know us for, but also for the newer generations that we’re trying to inspire to come into our restaurants. We find that our Southern-inspired menu is becoming increasingly popular beyond our traditional Southern footprint. This is a key reason why we envision growing our brand in areas like the Mid-Atlantic region in the next several years.
How would you define Southern cuisine?
When I personally think of the definition of Southern cuisine, I’m taken back to a specific moment in my life, which was the Sunday lunch after church and the presence of family and fellowship. I say this because, to me, this often included eating chicken and drinking sweet tea, those two staples being accompanied by a variety of great-tasting side items, which is what we call fixin’s here at Bojangles’. The great thing about the definition of Southern cuisine is that everyone defines it slightly different based on a specific region and some of the recipes closest to their families. And to me, the same feeling fits with the Bojangles’ menu. Whether it’s a post-Sunday service lunch or tailgating for a big football game, there’s no doubt our customers plan the same type of fellowship around our great-tasting food.
How much do you stretch the idea of Southern cuisine?
More than ever, we’re looking at: What is that new audience for us? This is our 40th anniversary as a brand, and we’re attracting new audiences of millennials and Gen Z, obviously something that’s getting a lot of buzz. And we are looking at a variety of twists on Southern favorites. We’ve been doing this recently with some of our new limited-time offers, and this is focused on categories like bowls and new sandwiches. Portability is a big piece when we’re looking at some of these newer audiences, knowing there are a lot of folks on the run or in their cars. It’s ensuring we’re staying on-trend with the things folks really know us for, which is flavorful and genuine products.
How can you move Southern cuisine into the future?
Knowing our customer is a big part of this. There’s plenty of disruption going on. We’ve been investing a lot of time in talking to our customers about new products in various markets across our footprint prior to their launch. It’s understanding: Is this a fit for the Bojangles’ brand? A lot of insightful discussion comes out of these focus groups and folks tasting these new products, and it really provides information on how our customers are evolving in our footprint. We also understand how our customer base wants to push the envelope with flavors from the more traditional sense than the typical Southern fare.
How much does health factor into your decisions?
It is a consideration. I think there are some things we are working on now for the future that fall in line with those folks who are interested in that. The other piece is we are focused on long-term fixin’s, too; right now we’ve got green beans that a lot of folks pair with some of their other options to have a flavorful, lower-calorie choice. It is something we have to keep our eyes on.
How do you keep the biscuits so consistently good?
It’s keeping your eye on the ball and ensuring that we stay focused on the points of differentiation, and that is absolutely a point of differentiation, especially being in the South. We have a very detailed approach and multi-step process to building those biscuits.