Checkers/Rally’s may be known for its double drive thru and seasoned fries, says Checkers chief marketing officer Terri Snyder. But the brands are hoping their newest product, Loaded Potato Skins, will become just as popular.

The potato skins—a permanent item that feature full-sized, meaty potato skins covered with cheese sauce, bacon chunks, and ranch sauce and sold three for $2.99—were inspired by a trio of factors.

First, consumers simply love them, and it’s hard to get them anywhere else in the limited-service world, Snyder says.

“It’s one of those foods that you love a lot but you just can’t get all the time and everywhere,” she says. “If you can find products that people love but they can’t get conveniently, you can really grow business in this category.”

Second, the ever-increasing trends of snacking and mini-meals—Snyder says Millennials eat 4.2 times each day—has created an avenue of success for products like the Loaded Potato Skins.

“The whole emergence of snacking and mini-meals and its pretty rapid growth is a key growth opportunity for brands in all of fast food, and I think particularly for brands like Checkers and Rally’s that are really about indulgence and treating yourself to great-tasting food,” Snyder says.

Finally, consumption of potato products is skyrocketing. A recent study by Datassential shows that 43 percent of consumers increased their potato consumption in 2012, and 46 percent of diners report eating potato products several times each week.

Snyder says there are two primary reasons for this trend. “In times that are tough, they want comfort,” she says of consumers. “And I think the other thing is that potatoes really fit this snacking, pop-able, ‘I’m on the go, what can I eat that’s easy and satisfies me?’ kind of food.”

Just three weeks after the launch of Loaded Potato Skins, Snyder says sales are exceeding expectations, performing even better during the launch than they did in test markets.

“It’s been a really important part of our sales growth for the last three or four weeks,” she says, adding that the brand is selling 8 percent more potato products—including french fries, potato skins, and loaded fries—than it was a year ago.

“We’ve taken a category that was about 20 percent of our business and grown it to about 28 percent of our business,” Snyder adds. “And the margins on potatoes are far better than the margins on almost anything else that we sell.”

She says the brands’ marketing efforts—which include television, POP, and a social-media campaign, has influenced the product’s success at market.

The social media contest, called Potato Skin It 2 Win It, invites customers to demonstrate their love of potato skins by sharing a photo of themselves eating and enjoying the item. Fans then vote on their favorite photos, and the 10 highest vote getters will win free potato skins for a year.

The contest runs through March 18, 2013, and voting will take place from March 19 to March 31.

Though all eyes are on Loaded Potato Skins at the moment, the brands are also gearing up for their next big product, the Philly Cheesesteak Sub, which is set to launch on April 1.

“It comes from exactly the same place where [the potato skins] come from: People love Philly Cheesesteaks and you only get them in inconvenient ways,” she says. “You get them in sandwich shops where you stop, go in, wait through a line. So no one has really brought convenience to Philly Cheesesteaks.”

Snyder says items like the Loaded Potato Skins and Philly Cheesesteak Sub—which she says its one of the most successful products the brands have tested in the last three years—are helping the company continue the strong sales growth it has seen over the past several years.

“For the last two and a half years, we’ve led the category almost every period in terms of sales growth—or been among the leaders in sales growth—and I think it’s because we understand this idea of how consumers are eating today,” she says.

“We’ve brought some really innovative products like potato skins, wings, our Cold Creations line of products, and products like the Philly Cheesesteak Sub that just really bring indulgence and innovation that nobody else is bringing to the category.”

By Mary Avant

Consumer Trends, Menu Innovations, News, Checkers, Rally's