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August 31, 2010
Gross-Out Food Wars
It started with KFC's bunless Double Down sandwich, two pieces of fried chicken with two pieces of bacon and two melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese in the middle. Next came Friendly's "Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt" -- a hamburger between two grilled cheese sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, and mayo.

In the interest in of staying competitive, while offering something other than gourmet hamburgers and generating some much-needed buzz, Carl's Jr. introduced a foot-long burger, made by lining up three burgers on a hoagie bun. It contains more than 1,400 calories.

Whether these offerings are appetizing to consumers, a market opportunity does not a brand success make. The truth is that any quick-serve chain can come up with a truly gross offering, but getting attention and getting sales are two entirely different courses. Consumers may try something for its novelty (and for the occasional cholesterol jolt), but you need more than one-time buyers to make a success of newly fabricated grub.

You need to be able to do it believably. While as gross as any recent offer, the foot-long burger from Carl's Jr. would seem at least within their preview, and thus, a more feasible offering coming from a burger joint. As a brand, Carl's Jr. surely could use some inspiration.

According to our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, they're rated toward the bottom of the current national offerings (a category that increasingly sees "health" showing up in the decision process):

1.) McDonald's
2.) Subway
3.) Burger King
4.) Quiznos
5.) KFC
6.) Wendy's
7.) Carl's Jr.
8.) Hardee's
9.) Jack in the Box
10.) Taco Bell

As the summer unfolds and the gross-out comestible wars continue, we are curious to see what other culinary chimeras get offered to the public. But as anyone with a test kitchen can create a gross-out pièce de résistance, here's a research question that rings loudest: Is the weird combination of disparate foods and attendant and unfamiliar mouth-feel and unusual taste sensations the reason that consumers feast on such fare?

Our metrics tell a different story of what consumers are looking for, which may not be as simple as shaping a bigger burger. The shape that interests many consumers today is their children's and their own.

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Robert Passikoff, Founder and President of Brand Keys, Inc., has 35 years experience in strategic brand planning for B2B and B2C product and service categories. He pioneered work in loyalty and engagement, creating the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index®, the Brandweek Loyalty Leaders List, the Sports Fan Loyalty Index®, and the Women's Wear Daily Fashion Brand Engagement Index®.

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