Jack in the Box’s marketing strategy centers around CRAVED—an acronym standing for cultural, relevant, authentic, visible, easy, and distinctive. That’s how the fifth-largest burger chain in quick service chooses to engage with customers. It’s why the brand partners with the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Snoop Dogg, and Mark Hamill. The acronym also encapsulates how the company approaches culinary innovation.
The menu already boasts 80-plus menu items and fills several food categories. CMO Ryan Ostrom says the team internally refers to Jack as a “burger chain famous for its tacos.”
Once again, the chain found an opportunity to create differentiation through the Smashed Jack—a burger featuring a quarter-pound seasoned 100 percent beef smashed patty, American cheese, grilled onions, pickles, and a new Boss Sauce. It took two years for the culinary team to find the right combination of flavors. Ostrom recalls trying multiple iterations every three weeks for a year straight—different patties, blends of meat, cooking times, and cooking methods. The result? The Smashed Jack has the biggest patty on Jack’s menu, and it’s seasoned in the blend instead of on the grill. The company even introduced a first-of-its-kind piece of equipment specially-made for the Smashed Jack to capture the burger’s juicy inside and crispy, caramelized edges.
Jack unveiled the burger to kick off 2024. To ensure proper training occurred and enough real-time customer feedback was gathered, the menu innovation was released as a soft launch without any paid media promotion. As it turns out, guests found out about the Smashed Jack anyway and came to stores in droves. The rollout was supposed to be six weeks but only lasted two before it sold out completely. One person ordered 27 Smashed Jacks on one ticket. A restaurant in San Luis, Arizona, sold more than 1,000 burgers in a matter of weeks.
Smashed Jack broke the record for the highest launch week sales of any burger product in at least the past six years.
“No marketing, no advertising,” Ostrom says. “Just put it on the menu. We couldn’t keep it in stock. We couldn’t keep it on shelves. I think we sold 70,000 of them the first day and we don’t usually do that at all.”
The plan is for the burger to become a permanent menu item, but first Jack needs time to recalibrate and ensure a successful launch when it returns in February. The biggest issue is having enough workers in the manufacturing facility to produce the beef blends.
Although the Smashed Jack’s performance caught executives off guard, the brand has a history of bringing differentiated items to market. Jack was the first to introduce breakfast sandwiches and portable salads, coming onto the scene in 1969 and 1982, respectively. In 1971, the chain launched the Jumbo Jack, which was considered one of the largest burgers in the quick-service industry at the time. Arguably the most unique aspect of Jack is that it sold 659 million tacos in 2023 alone.
The Smashed Jack in particular was tested against McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King. The burger kept winning over consumers’ taste buds. Ostrom estimates he alone has tried 50-60 Smashed Jacks.
“You’ll see a lot of people do not think this is a fast-food burger,” Ostrom says. “It’s more on the higher-end burger chain kind of comparison but more affordable. And I just think it tastes amazing and that’s why I was very happy that I’ve been close to 50 of these things.”
This year is expected to be Jack’s most robust lineup of menu innovation, with new egg rolls, curly fries, all-day breakfast, milkshakes, and more on tap.
All of these innovations have been in development for a considerable amount of time.
“We know what we’re doing in 2025 already,” Ostrom says. “We have over 1,000 ideas that go through various stage funnels with stage gates. That includes consumers, includes supply chain, operations. Can we even make it consistently? And I talk about and say consistency a lot. That’s what we really strive for in that process. There’s so many things, but it’s just really great when it gets to the final stage of, ‘Hey, we’re going to actually roll out tests.'”