Burger King Worldwide’s recently released third-quarter results were reasonably strong, with a 1.4% systemwide increase in same-store sales. The U.S./Canada segment did even better, up 1.6%. But Asia/Pacific comps were down 2.2% as a result, the company said, of weak sales in Australia and Korea.
This wasn’t the first time this year that Australia, where Burger King operates as Hungry Jack’s, was singled out as an exception to the chain’s improving global results. A little more than a year ago, Hungry Jack’s launched a brand makeover similar to what Burger King did in the U.S. But Hungry Jack’s reimaging effort has had a rougher time making the new brand personality click.
One reason is that McDonald’s is larger (800+ stores versus 330+ Hungry Jack’s) and more entrenched and innovative in Australia (McCafé originated there), where it’s widely referred to as “Macca’s.” Second, McDonald’s also has upgraded its brand over the past few years. This has included investments in remodeled stores that HJ’s hasn’t matched and a more upscale menu that HJ’s has scrambled to equal.
In the past weeks, McDonald’s has introduced the innovative Serious Lamb Burger and Serious Lamb Taster wrap, both with locally raised lamb. It followed those by revamping its premium burger line as Serious Angus burgers. Its Olympics menu in August had a Sydney Stack burger, Atlanta McRib, Beijing Chicken and more. HJ’s watched from the sidelines.
Hungry Jack’s has promoted the Barramundi Fish sandwich and an Outlaw Whopper with Spicy HP barbecue sauce. But according to sources, Macca’s next week will see that spicy-menu bet and raise the stakes: On Nov. 13, McDonald’s will welcome summer down under with new items that include a Smokey BBQ Bandit burger, Scorcher Peri Peri chicken sandwich and Blazing Omelette McMuffin along with a Mango Pineapple Smash Smoothie, Caramel Crush Frappé and an Oreo Sundae.
Before the brand overhaul, Hungry Jack’s image was youthful, irreverent and brash, like Burger King before Jay Leno, Steven Tyler and other non-young celebs became its faces. Beginning in 2009, McDonald’s moved upscale with its “M Selections by McDonald’s” menu, which included not only the Grand Angus burgers but also the Grand Chicken Burger and NYC Benedict Bagel and Boston Deli Bagel breakfast sandwiches. In South Australia, it tested an Oven Baked menu including chicken kebabs.
Hungry Jack’s began its transformation in September 2011, announcing the option of a Salad Stix cup of sliced broccoli, carrot, celery and bell pepper (with the option of hummus dip) as a healthful side dish. The following month introduced two new burgers—the BBQ Deluxe Country Burger and BBQ Onion Country Burger (now simply the Deluxe Country an Country burgers)—promoted as being certified organic beef and served on oat-bran buns.
Further, the chain dropped its longtime ad slogan, “The Burgers are Better,” in favor of the broader “Hungry Jack’s Makes it Better.” The cheeky advertising of the past has been replaced with product-focused advertising. Clemenger BBDO, Sydney, handles. Interestingly, the most recent TV spot for the Outlaw Whopper turns back the clock and revives the “Burgers are Better” line.
Last December, Hungry Jack’s announced on Facebook that it would be eliminating its Angus burgers and replacing them with better fare. In came a “Better Tastes Menu” with four “Premium Choice” option clearly aimed at McDonald’s menu. These included the BBQ Bacon Angus XT and Swiss Mushroom Angus XT burgers and the Swiss Avocado Chicken Tendercrisp and Cheddar Swiss Chicken Tendercrisp sandwiches. Later it aped McDonald’s “A little bit fancy” tagline for premium items by introducing an Eggs Benedict-inspired “Eggs Benny Muffin” and “Eggs Benny Wrap.” Ads called it “A little morning indulgence.”
Hungry Jack’s many fans responded by calling for the return of their beloved Aussie Whopper, topped with sliced beet (a popular style in Australia). Come May, Hungry Jack’s gave in, creating a new beet-topped Aussie XT burger. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that the second quarter is the only one of the first three quarters where Burger King’s Asia/Pacific comp sales were positive (they also were down 1.2% in Q1).
Hungry Jack’s always has been a scrappy fighter for its share of the dining-out market, so it will be interesting to watch its efforts to reenergize its sales. But menu items such as the current Chicken Shake-n-Snacks and Big Brekky Wrap breakfast sandwich may not do it, especially if McDonald’s upcoming Smokey BBQ Bandit and Scorcher Peri Peri LTOs score big. It’s a competition worth watching.