CKE recently added to its antibiotic-free charbroiled chicken line-up with its Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich. A marination and charbroiled process prevents the chicken from drying out.

Next on the menu

When it comes to developing the next tastier, juicier option, CKE’s innovation team will experiment with about 500 menu ideas for limited-time offers each year. As those 500 items are analyzed and assessed internally, only a fraction of them make the cut to be test marketed at select restaurants.

Klein says, “This gives us a sense of its sales viability and projecting how the menu would perform across the entire system, which is one of the reasons why historically, only 12-15 limited-time offerings and new menu items are added each year.”

Some of the more innovative introductions CKE’s brands have rolled out this year included its all-day Breakfast Burger, the Baby Back Rib Burger and the Aporkalypse Burrito and Biscuit.

Supply chain factors always play a big part in the development and viability of new products each year. Klein says macrolevel indicators, including the price of oil play a role as does timing.

“Since our restaurant’s menu offerings change over time, one of the most important criteria we also look at for proteins is seasonality and occasion-driven buying, like turkey-inspired items around Thanksgiving,” Klein says.

One item that has transformed the menu offerings at Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s and almost all other quick-service and other foodservice segments is bacon. Klein says in the last three to four years, bacon has become a linchpin of both burger chains.

“To say we use bacon a lot is probably an understatement. It’s featured as a topical to items as well as a stand-alone, especially for breakfast,” Klein says. “In fact, bacon-inspired items account for most of the sales on Hardee’s menu.”

Because bacon has become a foodservice staple on most menus, the challenge is more often in finding new ways to utilize the versatile and iconic meat. It is featured multi-dimensionally in CKE’s burger chains. Klein says the Three-Way Thickburger, which was launched last year at both restaurants, is an example of utilizing bacon uniquely.

“In addition to featured thick cut applewood-smoked strips and crumbles, we worked hard to get bacon jam right and incorporate it as a featured ingredient across our entire system for this LTO – another first for our category,” Klein says.

Like most global chains menu consistency is key, but CKE maintains a degree of flexibility, according to Klein. Region-to-region and market-to-market, he says “There isn’t a ton of variance across our menu around the globe. By design, we want a core menu from Tokyo to Texas that is consistent – although we do rely on our international franchisees to guide us on what we need to deliver on that very promise in their respective regions.

“Feedback from operators in those regions is valuable and the comments range from, ‘Here are the suppliers we need to work with in my region’, to ‘We can’t deliver consistent quality on this key ingredient’. Or sometimes, ‘This breakfast item should be offered as a dessert’, which was direction we received from our Japanese franchisees about repurposing our short stack of breakfast pancakes for their region – which we did,” he says.

“And sometimes that direction does inspire region-specific menu items, like our Tropical Mango Milkshake, that is only available in New Zealand.”