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Chipotlefication

I’ve been going with my family to Burger King ever since I was a little kid. But, as I got older, I began going less often – first because there really weren’t too many Burger Kings in the yuppie college town I went to school in and, later, after I joined the upper middle class workforce, because going to a fast food joint carried a social stigma. As a result, for the past few years, I’ve really only been to Burger King a few times a year, and mainly via the drive-thru.

So, I was very surprised to discover when I went to the restaurant for lunch yesterday how much the menu and imagery had changed since the last time I visited:

ribsandwich

What greeted me wasn’t a fast food place – it was a restaurant trying to be anything but a fast food place. Look at the imagery above: the predominant color is green – as if they were trying to evoke a feeling of a upper middle class picnic where the food is all organic and locally raised; it showcased Sweet Potato Fries in a classy fry stand – not your run of the mill French fries in a logo-emblazoned cardboard holder; and the main item – not a delicious ground beef burger, it’s a rib sandwich.

It’s a fascinating case study on rebranding – where a company adjusts its advertising and messaging to try to convince its customers and the public more broadly that its values have changed. No longer is Burger King the store of “have it your way” where you can get customization at a fantastic price – its now about “aspirational” tastes and ingredients about food which is tasty, fast, but also (at least theoretically) good for you and for the environment.

To me this Chipotlefication is a testament to the growth and success of companies like Chipotle and Panera who found a profitable and much larger market than anyone in the fast food industry had expected. Where fast food restaurants once seemed to shrug off criticisms about health and ingredient sourcing in favor of cost and taste, those same restaurants are now much more eager to talk about their vegan/dairy-free/gluten-free options and their commitment to using local, sustainably sourced ingredients.

Only history will tell if Burger King succeeds at this Chipotlefication (or if the market’s demand for this type of food is only a short-lived fad), but its interesting to me both how companies like Chipotle and Panera grow by finding new markets not properly served by the existing incumbents (i.e. Burger King, McDonald’s) and how long lived consumer brands (i.e. Burger King, McDonald’s again) seek to adapt to the changing times.

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