Wendy’s Takes a Bite Out of BK

In the battle over burgers, Wendy’s has finally beaten out Burger King for a share of the market (with McDonald’s in first place, as always). As the Financial Times reports,

With burger consumers increasingly demanding about taste and quality, Wendy’s is poised to pass Burger King in market share sometime next year, according to Mark Kalinowski, restaurant analyst at Janney Capital Markets. It would be the first time that Wendy’s, which was founded in 1969, has overtaken Burger King.
Burger King, which once held about 20 percent of the $65bn hamburger market, fell to 13.3 percent last year and could soon dip below 10 percent, he wrote in a recent research note.
There are several reasons for this. For starters, the competition for quality fast-food hamburgers has become fierce over the last few years. In Arlington, Va., there are a number of alternatives to McDonald’s and Burger King such as Red Robin and pricier venues like BGR and Elevation Burger (the latter two of which are grain-fed and grass-fed beef, respectively). From a perceptual point of view, Burger King’s beef is unremarkable (it’s great claim to fame was being flame-broiled). And then there’s the marketing: I’ve always viewed BK’s attacks on McDonald’s, especially during the burger wars of the 1980s, as childish, although they had some good commercials (such as the ones starring Elizabeth Shue). BK’s later decision to go with ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky led to the creation of the King, a character some considered a bit creepy—the point was to target a young male audience. But as a marketing professor told FT, “The entry point for being excited about the brand was the ads, not the food.”
Burger King subsequently abandoned CP+B for Mcgarrybowen, whose focus is now on the food (the King has been exiled). The chain recently unveiled its latest version of the french fry. But the results of this marketing reorientation remain unclear.

Still, we should give credit where it’s due: Wendy’s has been in an innovator from its earliest days. As Josh Ozersky notes in The Hamburger,

Wendy’s was founded on the central insight that handsome profits might be made from charging more for a better, larger hamburger, freshly made and composed to the customer’s specifications. Wendy’s made hamburgers with corners that stuck outside the bun, a simple trick that simultaneously conveyed size (the standard burger was as big as a Whopper), homey nonconformity (it didn’t fit the bun), and plenty (there was literally more than the bun could contain). More important, each burger was cooked to order from fresh beef…. There were more cars than ever on the road, though, and [founder Dave Thomas] steered them to Wendy’s by inventing the drive-through window…. Thomas designed the first flow architecture aimed at getting customers into one door and out the other with minimal loitering. Even the seats were deliberately made uncomfortable to discouraging lingering.

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