For Applebee's, the key to accelerating growth may be "fresh" and seasonal entrees. For Wendy's, the path to continuing to compete with Burger King for the No. 2 spot in U.S. fast-food sales may be strewn with bread and buns. Both chains have selected mid-year for significant new pushes behind their brands, their positioning and their products.
Applebee's just launched a new ad campaign, "See You Tomorrow," the first effort by new agency CP+B. It highlights what the chain calls its "culinary credibility" by sharing where its fresh ingredients come from. Ads show Applebee's chefs standing in fields of vegetables and fruits that are part of a new "Fresh Flavors of Summer" menu that includes entrees such as lemon shripm fettucine and garlic rosemary chicken pasta.
The chain also is in the middle of freshening up its stores. Through a $200-million-plus investment by DineEquity Inc., which bought Applebee's in 2007 in a $2-billion leveraged buyout, more than half of Applebee's nearly 1,900 U.S. locations will have been revamped by the end of this year with new signage and awnings featuring the brand's updated logo, stone-faced entryways, flat-screen TVs and other cues.
"We're signaling the change by revitalizing the stores," Mike Archer, president of Applebee's, told USA Today. "And we're communicating the change with a campaign about the freshness and food quality."
Of course, "fresh ingredient" and "local sourcing" messages have become endemic in the U.S. restaurant business over the last few years, so Applebee's is a bit late to the party in that sense. But Archer told the newspaper that "we've been working on this for years," beginning four years ago when Applebee's went from frozen to fresh beef in its burgers.
So far, Americans have been responding to Applebee's gradual makeover, with same-store sales growth of 1.2 percent for the first quarter.
Wendy's also is getting a rise out of U.S. consumers as changes it is making have pulled the chain neck-and-neck with Burger King for second place among fast feeders after McDonald's. Now, the chain is telling investors about a full slate of menu, marketing and remodeling moves for the second half of this year that executives believe will strengthen Wendy's for the battle.
The new menu items will include the use of flatbread in grilled-chicken flatbread sandwiches and a cheddar-jalapeno bun as part of a new spicy Santa Fe sandwich.
They're part of a future new-product lineup that needs to be "compelling, distinctive and ownable," Craig Bahner, Wendy's chief marketing officer, told a conference call. Wendy's also has been boosting same-store sales by 2 percent or more lately.