Operators Create Consumer Comfort With Brands

February 23, 2016

Operators Create Consumer Comfort With Brands

Hitching the Hellmann's® Mayonnaise logo to the Smokey Bacon Burger sends a compelling message to the guests of Sizzler, a chain of 150 family steak restaurants based in Mission Viejo, Calif.

“We have found that Sizzler guests identify heavily with brand names that they see in the grocery store and think of as superior quality,” says Tamra Scroggins, director of menu culture for Sizzler. “It gives them a comfort level and puts their minds at ease.”

Similarly, promoting the fact that a signature limited-time cheesecake was made with the Italian hazelnut spread Nutella boosted dessert sales for Fazoli’s, a Lexington, Ky.-based chain of 215 quick-service Italian restaurants. Much of that was due to the “cult-like following” of the brand, notes Carl Howard, Fazoli’s president and CEO.

“The win for us is that we get to enjoy the goodwill they have established,” says Howard. “At the same time, we’re buying their product, so their sales go up. And then we’re advertising their name on the cheesecake, with their approval, and they’re getting more brand exposure for free than they would get just in the grocery aisle.”

Branding — the partnership of a foodservice operator with a consumer food brand or the mark of a promotional board that represents an agricultural commodity — is a proven, highly effective approach to marketing and merchandising.

Whether it is done by showcasing nationally known brand names on the menu, or by displaying colorful, single-serve packages of cookies and chips at the cash register, branding sends a message of quality that the customers of restaurants and onsite operations find   hard to miss.

“It’s very opportunistic and smart, because it’s a win-win situation,” says Arlene Spiegel of the New York-based restaurant consulting company Arlene Spiegel & Associates. “Both the brand and the operator benefit from a halo effect.”

Brand name food and beverage products are critical for pleasing the college crowd, reports Dennis Meersdom, operations manager of the 21 Sparty’s convenience stores at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich. All told, they serve about 10,000 customers on weekdays.

“I don’t mind buying private-label products when I shop, but students are looking for brands,” says Meersdom. “It’s about comfort and trust.”

Adds Meersdom, “They want the Snickers bar. If I offered them a cheaper candy bar off-market, they wouldn’t go for it. They would rather spend the money on something they know.”

Thus Sparty’s sells an array of branded items — everything from bottled beverages and potato chips to packages of beef jerky and Chips Ahoy! cookies.

At Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, students are likewise attuned to branded products.

“Our students are very brand savvy,” says Kirk Rodriguez, director, hospitality services at Texas Tech. “They expect to find Sara Lee and Coke and the other brands they have grown up with.”

The Sam’s Place Mini- Markets and Sam’s Place Express c/store concepts — which account for about 90 percent of total revenue for Texas Tech Hospitality Services — have a central cashiering area for speed and convenience. “If you want to buy a Chick-fil-A sandwich and a bag of chips and a bottled drink, you grab it all and you cash out one time,” says Rodriguez.

Consultant Spiegel notes that a dessert made with an established cookie or candy can evoke positive memories for guests, such as having an after-school treat. “It’s part of the soft emotional uplift of eating that dessert,” says Spiegel. “It may encourage people to buy it on impulse, so it can be a driver of sales.”

Indeed, at Fazoli’s, the cheesecake indexed higher than all of the other desserts combined, Howard says. “We saw that and said ‘Aha, we’re on to something here.’”

Spiegel says she is seeing the growing hybridization of retail and foodservice brands, including more retail packaged products. “You are not just a café or a restaurant; you are also a grab-and-go retail market,” says Spiegel. “You don’t want to miss that sale.”

“There is no such thing as a clear line now between restaurants and retail,” adds Spiegel. “Everyone is mixing it up, because no one wants to lose that opportunity.”

Another perspective on the difference a brand can make is shown by the Datassential MenuTrends Keynote Report on desserts. It found that 40 percent of consumers say they "love" OREO cookies. In addition, OREO Cookie Pie is the fastest-growing pie variety in the past year. All told, Datassential tracked nearly 50 new menu items or LTOs featuring OREO Cookies in 2015.

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