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Hooters Parent Buys American Roadside Burgers

Chanticleer Holdings, parent of the Hooters chicken chain, announced an agreement to acquire all outstanding share of five-unit burger chain American Roadside Burgers (ARB). Terms of the acquisition were not released.

The signature four-patty Roadstar burger.

ARB like Chanticleer is based in Charlotte, N.C. The concept opened 10 years ago in Smithtown, N.Y. It also operates two locations in Charlotte as well as units in Columbia and Greenville, S.C.

Chanticleer Chairman-CEO Mike Pruitt said in a release that the deal for ARB “is our first departure from our ongoing development of Hooter’s restaurants in foreign countries. This acquisition will in no way change our focus on the development of Hooters restaurants internationally, but American Roadside presents a unique strategic opportunity in a high-growth space.”

ARB’s signature menu item is the four-patty Roadstar burger ($8.95). Other specialties include the Roadside Rally double cheeseburger ($6.95) and Route 66, a double-patty burger with pepper-Jack cheese, bacon and barbecue sauce ($6.95). The menu also includes pulled pork and Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches, salads, chicken wings and hand-scooped milkshakes.

Terms of the preliminary agreement call for Chanticleer to issue 740,000 stock (HOTR) units to the owners of Roadside Burgers, with each unit consisting of one share of common stock, and one five-year warrant, priced at $5. The value of the share exchange will be dependent upon Chanticleer Holding’s stock price at date of closing, which is expected to be Sept. 30, 2013.

Farm Burger’s Answer to $1 Menus

Feeling the pinch from QSR burger chains’ $1 menus? Consider this response from Farm Burger in Decatur, Ga. On Monday, Aug. 19, it will hold “Grassfed Fête” to celebrate its 3½ years in business.

The celebration feature’s the concept’s own version of a $1 menu. And this one has local connections that no chain can match: $1 Moonshine Meats 100% grass-fed beef sliders; $1 pulled pork sandwiches from a whole roasted Anderson Farms hog; $1 Darby Farms Spicy Chicken Wings; $1 quinoa veggie burgers with goat cheese and pickled veggies; $1 beer-battered onion rings and $1 sweet-potato or regular fries. Lil Farmer Meals for kids are just $1, too. Red Hare root beer is $1 and so are Red Hare root beer floats.

Atlanta’s Southern Folk Preservation Society All Stars provide the music.

With locations in Buckhead (Atlanta), Dunwoody and Decatur, Ga., plus Asheville, N.C., the chain has built a reputation for great daily specials. On Aug. 14, for example, the Buckhead location’s Daily Burger was a grass-fed beef patty with pepper-Jack, cheese, red cabbage slaw, pickled jalapeños and sherry-date BBQ sauce. At Decatur it was grass-fed beef with Gruyère cheese, sautéed local Lacinato kale, mushrooms and paprika mayo.

Check Increase Buoys Red Robin Sales

The difficulty of the current restaurant marketplace is such that despite reporting solid results, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers executives felt compelled to advise analysts that sales increases are hard won. “The environment continues to be volatile from a consumer spending [perspective],” SVP-CFO Stuart Brown cautioned. “Consumers continue to pull back even more than we had expected at this point in the economic cycle.” He said the market has softened more just in the past several months, explaining the series of negative growth reports for July given by several chains.

For its second quarter ended July 14, 2013, Red Robin reported a 4.3% gain in same-store sales for company-owned restaurants. However, that gain came from a 5% increase in average check mitigated by a 0.7% decrease in guest counts.

More than half (2.7%) the 5% check average came from increased sales of appetizer, beverage and dessert sales, with the remaining 2.3% coming from pricing. Red Robin’s instituted tiered pricing for appetizers this spring. Items are grouped as $3, $5, $7 or $9 in price, which has helped boost sales. The appetizer plan has “resonated well with consumers,” said SVP-CMO Denny Marie Post. She cautioned that appetizer sales may have benefited from initial trial that may not be maintained.

Tiered pricing for appetizers has won customer acceptance.

Red Robin says it has improved food plating and presentation as well as service as a result of its “brand transformation” tests.

The increased pricing has come from shifts such as upping the price for the Pig Out Style burger-toppings option to $1.50 from $1 and adding a Kuzuri Style option at $1.50. Post said the chain has seen “no evidence that [the Style price hikes] cause any harm.”

But Red Robin’s $12.15 average check remains one of the lowest in the casual-dining segment, CEO Carley said.

Carley declined to give details about Red Robin’s test of premium burgers. But as previously reported here, that test includes three Black Angus prime beef burgers with toppings such as oven-roasted tomatoes, sautéed Portobello mushrooms and house-made aïolis and sauces. Coupled with the chain’s Bottomless Steak Fries, the premium burgers are at priced from $12.99 to $14.29. The premium burgers, served with the chain’s Bottomless Steak Fries, are priced from $12.99 to $14.29.

Red Robin’s “brand transformation” initiative involving a test of three levels of remodeling investment continues to provide useful insights, Carley said. The nine restaurants (of a total of 20 remodels) that have received the full $400,000 treatment have seen a 6% sales lift. Red Robin is doing an additional 20 transformations this year and then will “rest” to evaluate results, said Brown. Next year the chain intends to test a lower-cost remodel package for lower-sales units. The payback period on the investment is estimated to be less than five years.

Updating the Summer’s Burger Trends

Here’s where we are with four trends influencing the burger business:

Sonic’s Breakfast Burritos: now with egg whites.

 BLT: Bacon mania has, not surprisingly, brought a renaissance for the BLT sandwich. BLT burgers had to follow and they have. McDonald’s first tried a Quarter Pounder BLT in Japan, then moved it to Canada. Now the QP BLT is offered across Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and other markets. Watch for it to be nationally available soon.

Egg whites: Sonic Drive-Ins have followed McDonald’s lead and now offer the option of egg whites only in place of whole eggs in breakfast burritos and sandwiches. McDonald’s Egg White Delight McMuffin started the trend. Is anyone out there offering an egg-white-topped burger?

Cronut Burger from Epic Burgers and Waffles in Toronto.

In Japan, McDonald’s has added an eggless McMuffin that’ more lunch than breakfast. The summer McMuffin has a sausage patty with tomato slices, Cheddar cheese, lettuce and yellow mustard.

Ruby Tuesday’s pretzel burgers

 Cronuts: The hybrid of the croissant and doughnut created (and trademarked) by pastry chef Dominique Ansel has received far more media attention that it merits. But when the trend creeps into the burger arena, well, that’s news. Toronto joint Epic Burgers and Waffles and bakery Le Dolci are teaming to offer Maple Bacon Cronut Burgers at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto from August 16 through September 2. The price for such trendiness? The burgers will be $10 each.

Pretzel-bun burgers: They’re the burger trend of 2013 (which you’ll recall BurgerBusiness.com forecast would be The Year of the Bun). Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger kicked it off. Dunkin’ Donuts has answered by offering any of its bakery sandwiches on a pretzel bun. And casual-dining chain Ruby Tuesday has joined the parade with a set of four pretzel-bun burgers. The varieties: Spicy Jalapeňo Pretzel Cheeseburger; Portabella Crispy Onion Pretzel Cheeseburger; Bacon Cheese Pretzel Burger; and Black and Blue Bacon Pretzel Burger.

Tim Hortons and QSRs’ “New Reality”

Marc Caira took over as president and CEO of Tim Hortons on July 2, 2013. Previously Global CEO of Nestlé Professional, the 50-year-old Caira is just Canadian-based Tim Hortons’ fourth CEO. Paul House, whom he succeeded, lauded Caira during last week’s quarterly earnings call for spending his first month on the job meeting corporate team members and operators across Canada and the U.S. in 21 regional meetings.

Caira obviously listened and observed during that month because in his first quarterly call, he showed a surprisingly clear and insightful view not only of Tim Hortons—which reported Q2 same-store gains of 1.5% in Canada and 1.4% in the U.S.—but also of the quick-service marketplace in general. He says the brand needs more efficiency in its drive-thru, its menu, and its service. It needs to think deeper about how to expand the brand because grow is slow for all QSRs.

Tim Hortons isn’t a burger chain and isn’t likely to become one, but its nearly $6.5 billion in systemwide sales last year is larger than all but those for the Big Three burger chains and it goes head-to-head with all QSRs for consumer dining dollars. Tim Hortons commanded a whopping 42% of the Canadian QSR sector and 77% of the brewed coffee sector in 2012, according to its 10-K filing. In addition to the coffee and doughnuts it’s best known for, its menu includes fresh baked goods, Panini sandwiches, soups and more. It dominates at breakfast a daypart it has extended until noon in Canada. A recent morning addition was a Jalapeňo Cheese Flatbread Breakfast Panini. Its Canadian stores average $2.17 million in annual sales with U.S. units $1.1 million. Tim Hortons shouldn’t be overlooked.

Breakfast includes Jalapeno Cheese Flatbread Panini.

But sales growth has slowed for all quick-service concepts and Caira wasn’t afraid to tell analysts that this is more than a short-term cyclical downturn. “I talked about this new reality that I see. And this new reality is this low-growth environment, this very high competitive intensity. Those things are there, and I think they’re going to be there for a while. Our challenge is to really look at ways that we can win in this new reality,” he said.

What he heard from franchisees is that Tim Hortons menu is inefficiently large. There is, he said, “a lot of complexity in our restaurants. So how do we simplify our operations? How do we reduce the number of products, the number of sizes, the number of price points? How do we simplify the menu boards?” These aren’t questions often asked in public by QSR management, let alone after one month on the job. But Caira showed he’s not afraid to ask questions that challenge brand assumptions.

Tim Hortons CEO Marc Caira

“There are no sacred cows here. We’re going to have to look at all of the menu, all of the price points, the SKUs and decide what we absolutely need and what we don’t need,” he said. “And to me, it’s more about, ‘Do you have the right platforms to be able to grow? Do you have the right platforms to be able to innovate, to differentiate yourself?’ And I think that we do have the right platforms in our stores. But I think the issue is that maybe there are too many products on each platform. So we’re going to have to look at that and streamline it.”

Tim Hortons could be coming your way. It’s in 13 states now and Caira wants to push on, not retreat, despite disappointing U.S. sales growth. “I consider the U.S. to be an important part of our growth strategy. I very much see the U.S. as being a must-win market for us,” he said. He said the company will find well-capitalized franchise partners “that have resources that perhaps are better tailored for local markets, whether it be real estate, media, that type of thing, which allows them to move faster than we would.”

One innovation on the 2013 calendar is a rollout of branded Tim Hortons coffee in Keurig-compatible single-serve cups. Added CFO Cynthia Jane Devine, “You’re going to see new things from us in the back half of the year.”

Jack Latest to Back Off Premium Pricing

Jack in the Box told analysts today that it is juggling its promotion calendar to de-emphasize premium-price menu products in favor of bundled value meals as the economic and competitive landscape continues to be challenging for all QSRs. The shift in marketing strategy accompanies its announcement of essentially flat system sales for its quarter ended July 7, 2013. It said July sales were negative.

Look for more offers like Jack in the Box’s current chicken combo meals.

Jack’s revised thinking about menu marketing echoes changes being made at Burger King. At the end of July, Burger King said it is backing off its recent strategy of simultaneously introducing multiple premium-tied menu items. What the chain says is appealing to customers are value promotions such as the “Mix & Match 2 for $5” offer it is wrapping up now.

Same-store sales at the 526 company-owned Jack in the Box units were up 1.2%, compared with 0.2% gain for the whole QSR category, according to The NPD Group’s SalesTrack Weekly data cited by the company. Franchised stores’ comp sales were down 0.3%, however, resulting in the systemwide +0.1% gain.

Len Comma will succeed Linda Lang as CEO on Jan. 1, 2014.

The Big Stack burger didn’t do well enough to build Q3 sales.

Chairman/CEO Linda Lang said Jack in the Box has adjusted promotions to emphasize budget-priced bundled meals such as the recently introduced Really Big Chicken Combos priced at $3.99. It followed June roll outs of two premium-tier products: the double-patty Big Stack burger and Big Waffle Stack breakfast sandwich. While de-emphasizing the premium end of the price pendulum, Jack isn’t expected to forgo altogether the innovative and higher-price menu additions for which it has become known.

Lang announced she will retire after a nearly-30-year career at Jack in the Box on Jan. 1, 2014. President Leonard Comma will become chairman/president/CEO at that time. She was named president in 2003 and added the CEO title in 2005.

The company says it has retained Boston Consulting Group to do an extensive brand evaluation of its troubled Qdoba Mexican casual-dining chain. The chain previously announced it is closing 67 under-performing stores. Systemwide same-store sales were up 1.3%. However, Qdoba’s restaurant operating margin declined 270 basis points to 20.6% of sales. Lang said the brand review seeks to identify who Qdoba’s core customers are and who its target customers should be.

McDonald’s Plans Angus Big Mac in Australia

The Angus Mac makes its debut in Australia on August 28.

Since its national introduction in 1968, McDonald’s Big Mac has been composed of “two all-beef patties, Special Sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun,” according to the jingle. But later this month McDonald’s will depart from that classic build with the limited-time addition of an Angus Mac variation in Australia, where Angus burgers remain on the menu and continue to be popular.

Taking the place of two-all beef patties will be a single Angus beef patty, a McDonald’s spokesperson has confirmed to BurgerBusiness.com. The other key ingredients—Special Sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions—will be there, however, making it one of the few official Big Mac variations McDonald’s has allowed. All of them have been introduced in international markets. In January of this year, McDonald’s Japan brought back a four-patty Mega Mac sandwich it has offered before. In Germany last year, McDonald’s tried a 45% larger Bigger Big Mac.

Japan’s Mega Mac

The Angus Mac will be on menus in Australia on August 28, just before Father’s Day (celebrated there on the first Sunday in September). In keeping with the paternal occasion, McDonald’s also will debut a slightly smaller Son of Mac. That gives McDonald’s operators a less expensive burger to balance  the premium-tier Angus Mac, priced at AU$5.95 (US$5.34). Special Father’s Day cupcakes also will be made available, according to sources.

Germany’s Bigger Big Mac

Angus Third Pounder burgers were removed from the U.S. menu in May of this year and replaced by upgraded Quarter Pounders. But the Angus Mac still could appear on the U.S. menu in the future: During McDonald’s “Open Door” meeting in June, CEO Don Thompson told BurgerBusiness.com that bringing back Angus burgers as LTOs has not been ruled out.

McDonald’s Australia has reported negative same-store sales this year, pushing it to develop new budget-friendly offers. As reported here earlier, that includes the current “Making Early Easy” promotion involving free breakfast items on successive Mondays through Aug. 19. Another current promotion also involves a giveaway: A free Coca-Cola glass with purchase of any large Extra Value Meal.

McDonald’s Big Mac has become so ubiquitous globally that it has become an accepted measurement of international currency valuations. British magazine The Economist famously created its Big Mac Index in 1986 based on what it says was “the notion that in the long run exchange rates should move towards the rate that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services (in this case, a burger) in any two countries. For example, the average price of a Big Mac in America in July 2013 was $4.56; in China it was only $2.61 at market exchange rates. So the “raw” Big Mac index says that the Yuan was undervalued by 43% at that time.” The most recent Big Mac Index can be accessed here.

Burgers of the Month for August 2013

The Trouble from Grill ‘em All

8 Oz. Burger Bar’s Beef & Lamb Gyro

The burger business thrives on creativity, as evidenced by many of the August Burger of the Month specials on offer at burger joints across North America. The cleverness shows in some of the names, such as The Avenue’s HueyDeweyLouie Burger, The Freshman 15 at Twisted Root and The Secret Squirrel BBQ Burger at the always-inventive Blue Moon Burgers. And remember: The Kevin Bacon burger is available this month only at Burger 55.

Of course, there is no end to the number of creative combinations of foods and flavors between buns. Consider Eden Burger Bar’s use of sausage bacon, dry-aged beef, chipotle Gouda, sautéed onions & peppers and beer-battered sauerkraut drizzled with a spicy honey mustard. Kuma’s Corner Nails burger honors one of the joint’s favorite bands with a burger topped with serrano-chile paste, bacon, mint-basil chimichurri, pulled pork, smoked Gouda garnished with whole fried mint. And the description of how Slater’s 50/50 makes its Supreme Nacho Burger will make you laugh, hungry and envious.

So, as the Brits say, tuck in to this month’s list of Burgers of the Month. Borrow freely. Eat well.

Slater’s 50/50′s Supreme Nacho Burger

The Avenue’s HueyDeweyLouie Burger

 5 Star Burgers, multiple Southwest
Adobe Burger ($9.50)
Harris Ranch beef with provolone, chipotle Mayo and crisp tortilla strips

8 Oz. Burger Bar, Seattle
Lamb & Beef Gyro

Stuffed feta, romaine, pearl red onion, cucumber, olive tapenade and curry Tzatziki

The Avenue, St. Petersburg, Fla.
HueyDeweyLouie Burger (12.50)

Angus patty with Havarti cheese, house-cured duck bacon and Dijon sauce on a croissant roll. White truffle Parmesan fries on the side.

BGR: The Burger Joint, multiple locations
Hawaiian Burger

Topped with ham, grilled pineapple and teriyaki sauce

Burger Revolution’s The Rising

Chili Cheese Hot Dog Burger at Oinkster

 Blue Moon Burgers, Seattle
Return of The Secret Squirrel BBQ Burger

Toasted brioche (we have a flakier lighter brioche bun now) with green tomato pickles, 1/3-lb. premium local beef patty, Muenster cheese, thinly sliced onion rings and our Secret Squirrel BBQ Sauce

Bobby’s Burger Palace, multiple locations
Carolina Burger

Smoked Cheddar, mustard barbecue sauce, green-onion slaw

Buckeye Beer Engine, Lakewood, Ohio
Mango Adobo Burger ($9.50)

Half pound of fresh ground beef seasoned with adobo and topped with pepper-Jack and Cheddar cheeses and Beer Engine mango avocado salsa  Click here to continue reading Burgers of the Month for August 2013