Circle the wagons, slash prices and hold on tight? Not these chains. Coming off of the toughest operating environment in recent memory, companies now solidly in positive territory and positioned to prosper as the turnaround takes hold are those that spent the past couple of years innovating, shaking up their menus and concepts, and making strategic moves to create new opportunities for growth.
Scouring the industry and working with Technomic Inc., FE&S sought to identify and shine a spotlight on 25 chains that have done just that. From eight-unit Anna's Taqueria to 500-plus-unit Qdoba; from new kid on the block Energy Kitchen to old timers like Sizzler and Straw Hat Pizza; from subs, to salads to pizza, yogurt, bagels and burritos, all have trumped economic doom and gloom with innovation and positive change. Some made big moves — whole new prototypes, remodels or menu concepts. Others are on-trend tweaks that have proven to satisfy a market need, attract new guests, build checks, or take something they already do well and find ways to do it better.
It's not about change for change sake, says Mary Chapman, director of product innovation at Technomic. Rather, the big driver behind moves being made by growing chains is that they clearly differentiate their concepts and menus and better align themselves with changing customer needs.
This can mean adding a new focus on healthful menu choices or rolling out new products with fresh new flavor profiles — things you just can't get anywhere else. It might be tapping a new daypart, such as snacking, or a new technology, like video menus, that boost efficiency and enhance the guest experience. Maybe it's perfecting killer, craveable LTOs that go beyond hype to really drive traffic and push up check averages.
It might be a facelift for concepts that had started to show age and lose relevance. Or, as in several cases on the following pages, rethinking everything from real estate and construction to design and equipment selection to reduce unit costs and boost appeal to potential new franchisees as access to credit loosens.