Hardee’s is taking a move out of sister brand Carl’s Jr.’s playbook. The burger chain will begin testing two new plant-based menu items in October.
With internal insights pointing to the vast whitespace and potential for plant-based proteins, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s parent company, CKE Restaurants, wanted to get ahead of the competition. Carl’s Jr. launched its Beyond Famous Star burger nationwide in January to 1,300-plus locations. It was a right time and right place situation for the company, says Owen Klein, CKE’s vice president of global culinary innovation.
Since partnering with Beyond Meat, Carl’s Jr. has sold more than four million Beyond Famous Star burgers, the company said. The success of the alternative item led CKE to develop a similar product for Hardee’s.
“We're using some of the things that worked very well for what we have on the menu at Carl's Jr. and taking some similar tactics in the approach with Hardee’s in the two new Beyond offerings that we're going to be testing,” Klein says. “Our Hardee’s guests have been loud and clear that they want something similar to what our other brand has in the Beyond Burger.”
Instead of throwing a completely unfamiliar plant-based dish onto the menu, Klein and his team kept the base of Carl’s Jr. Famous Star Burger. They developed a Beyond burger patty to take the place of the traditional patty. The new burger fits in with Carl’s Jr.’s existing burger lineup. Hardee’s item, the Original Beyond Thickburger, takes a similar approach, building off the classic.
“We used our top-selling burger, the Famous Star, to bridge the gap for plant based,” Klein says. “We're doing the same thing at Hardee's. We’re taking the equity that we have in Thickburgers, taking what's known and loved by a lot of Hardee’s consumers, and using the plant-based option, which makes the most sense for the test.”
As the menu expands at both brands, CKE isn’t focused on targeting customers with strict dietary restrictions, Klein says. Instead, the company sees plant-based offerings as an entry point for flexitarian customers who also value convenience.
“We're reaching not only our core customers, but we're also reaching a new type of guest as well,” Klein says.
CKE hopes to capture more customers during the breakfast daypart as well. Breakfast at Hardee’s is already a successful mix of the business, Klein says. In 2018, the chain sold more than 250 million made-from-scratch biscuits. So, it was only logical to pilot a Beyond breakfast option. The Beyond Sausage Biscuit sandwich pairs Hardee’s biscuit and Beyond’s version of a breakfast sausage.
“The reason that that we believe it makes sense for Hardee’s and is going to go gangbusters is that we're putting it on our made-from-scratch biscuits,” Klein says. “It's leveraging some of that heritage, some of that equity and aligning it with the Beyond message that makes a lot of sense to us. Hopefully it proves out in both markets.”
While Klein wouldn’t reveal the specific locations where the tests would take place, they will begin in October and run for two months depending on the level of interest. “It could be extended, it could be shortened if we blow the doors off,” Klein says.
If recent examples are any indication, the products should move quickly. When KFC recently tested plant-based chicken, it sold out in just five hours. Burger King didn’t take long to bring its Impossible Whopper nationwide, either. White Castle’s Impossible Slider created 100 million media impressions at launch.
CKE will take feedback from the testing to help it determine the future of plant-based products on the menu. Klein says the company is currently developing a lineup of healthier options that could be tested in different markets over the next year, too.
Innovation across all categories, especially burgers and breakfast, is a key part of CKE’s strategy to stay competitive, Klein says. Now it wants to be a leader in plant-based innovation.
“It runs in our veins,” he says. “We want to set the tone and lead the charge for this innovation in plant based outside of the upcoming test that we're talking about. We have a ton in the hopper that we can't wait to get out.”