These efforts were about “let’s just get some excitement and take a risk,” Terrell says. Moving forward, Krystal doesn’t plan to be shock and awe constantly. The brand doesn’t want customers continually thinking, “Where are they going to go now?” However, Krystal won’t go stale either. The company wants to be more connected on social media and immersed in the zeitgeist. Terrell used the comparison of Wendy’s, which operates more like a friend you follow—full of memes, funny responses, and videos.
Krystal’s way of pushing the envelope will be through new and different culinary products.
“I think we’re less focused on how do we shock as opposed to how do we now use all of this brand?” Terrell says.
Ray Kees, director of culinary for Krystal, says the company’s menu innovation is essentially the same as others—a stage gate funnel process that starts with 200 ideas for one particular item. They’re all filtered and flushed through various steps of testing. Then, depending on the product’s concept or marketing, it may go through consumer location tests and focus groups. But everything doesn’t have to go through the rigors. Some of it is common sense.
“Some items we develop here in the test kitchen,” Kees says. “We’re like, ‘You know what, it’s a milkshake.’ People love milkshakes. There’s certain parameters you want to hit based off season and your target audience, but we don’t necessarily have to put everything through the rigors of testing.”
This is Kees’ second stint at Krystal after working for the brand from February 2016 to October 2018. He says new ownership is more focused on quality. One of the first projects he worked on was reengineering the Side Chik sandwich. Before he came on board, it was a chopped and formed product, which isn’t bad, Kees says. The item served its purpose, but Krystal knew customers wanted something different. So in the latest version, the build is the same, along with a crunchy, savory coating and “whole muscle” white meat breast.
Krystal—known for its small sliders— also found an opportunity to fill consumers’ needs with a more indulgent burger. As of press time, the chain was testing a larger iteration with quarter-ounce patties seared on a griddle, and a potato bun, cheese, sauce, and a pickle.
It’s an example of the brand’s nothing-off-limits approach to culinary creations.