The world is catching up to Farmer Boys.
When the Riverside, Calif.-based chain opened its first store in 1981, sourcing fresh local produce wasn’t the norm for QSRs. Serving breakfast all day was common at sit-down restaurants, but at Farmer Boys guests order at a counter and their food and drinks are brought out to them.
“We were fast casual before people knew what fast casual was,” says Ken Clark, president and COO.
Thirty years later, Farmer Boys has 72 restaurants in California and Nevada—two-thirds of them franchises—and the chain is accelerating its growth since the farm-restaurant connection is all the rage. After opening just one to three units a unit annually for the past several years, the chain will add six this year and is more aggressively eying the future. Clark sees enough room left in its two-state trading territory that the company is not looking for franchisees farther east.
But the chain is updating its image, menu and marketing to capitalize on the current interest in farm-fresh foods. Clark credits John Krueger and his Krueger Communications agency with developing the “Farm-to-Table Burgers” positioning that Farmer Boys has adopted. “This is who we have always been; we’ve just never articulated it in that way and marketed it that way,” Clark says. “John said to us, “This is who you are, so let’s go tell people.’”
The Farmer Boys menu is large, with 75 entrées spread over the three dayparts. To better reflect that breadth, the chain’s logo, which for many years proclaimed “World’s Greatest Hamburgers,” now says “Breakfast, Burgers and More.” But that doesn’t reflect any change in emphasis. Customer traffic is equally divided across morning, mid-day and evening, Clark says.
“We have a full-line fresh breakfast menu: Eggs any way you want. They’re not held under a heat lamp, they’re cracked when ordered and we make them how you want them. You’d have to go to a sit-down restaurant and spend more time and money for that elsewhere,” says Clark. “But we’re still known for our burgers; they’re still the most important part of our business,” says Clark.
Burgers are never-frozen quarter-pound patties. The Signature Farmer Burger is a double-patty build for $5.49. Last year Farmer Boys added The Natural, a third-pound patty of hormone- and antibiotic-free Angus beef that has done well. The chain is a frequent but not constant user of couponed newspaper inserts. The most recent offers include a $4.99 cheeseburger combo.
The “Farm-to-Table Burgers” positioning is backed by a quirky new TV advertising campaign built around a scarecrow that is the identified as the chain’s “director of security,” protecting Farmer Boys’ fresh produce. The scarecrow may not move but manages to evoke evoke the chain’s farm connection.
Clark concedes the unusual campaign has “led to a lot of talk,” but he’s fine with that. “Customers and employees are having fun with the scarecrow,” he says. “But it’s still all about the food for us, because it’s great, fresh food. What the scarecrow does is make that memorable.”