New menu adds bite to burger marketWHEN McDonalds decided to launch a new burger last year the media rated it one of the riskiest business decisions yet taken by the world's largest fast food group.
Tampering with a tried and tested business formula is not a decision lightly taken when you are the colossus of the fast food market. So how does this rate against Steers' decision to completely revamp its menu, headed by the new King Steer burger?
"Firstly, we are much smaller than McDonalds, which is a global operation, and that means we can be far more responsive to the needs of the market," says Steers group MD Theofanis Halamandaris. "Secondly, the market is changing and we have to keep abreast of those changes.
"We wanted to escape the taboos that surround the SA food industry and position our products at a level which we think represents the Steers standards and image. To do this we opted for a lively and colourful new menu, and an exciting combination of different flavours, as a way of reminding our customers that we are committed to excellence in food."
Steers franchisees and frontline workers had a major input in the redesign of the menu.
"These changes didn't come from people who work behind a desk or in a food laboratory," says Theofanis. "The new menu is the result of team work. The people who work in our stores came forward with suggestions and recommendations based on their interaction with customers. In addition to that, we looked at trends overseas, but the menu is specifically designed for the African market."
Halamandaris believes the new menu is a winner which sets Steers apart from its rivals. The South African predilection for braais and flame-grilled meat is accommodated on the menu and exhaustive taste tests were carried out before settling on the final mix. Steers says it is the only major burger producer in SA to flame-grill rather than fry its patties. Flame-grilling is healthier and results in a superior flavour.
"No two burgers contain exactly the same ingredients and the combination of 18 different sauces, and the ingredients used in the making of the burgers, is what gives them their unique taste," says Halamandaris.
The new King Steer Burger - with two 100g beef patties, two cheese slices, dills, onion, salad and three sauces - gets top billing on the menu. It is, says marketing director Colin Ekman, the "ultimate burger experience", which is bigger than anything else available on the market. The cost is R11.50.
Cynics might argue that there is no heroism in creating a giant burger; that you just stack one pattie on top of another, add a bit of salad and sauce and call it the biggest in the market.
Ekman sees it differently: "This is a bigger burger, with more taste profiles than anything else on the market. The ingredients are unique and thousands of tests were carried out before we arrived at what we consider to be the perfect burger. We're making a bold claim, I agree, but with good justification. We believe our products taste better than whatever else is available on the market."
The launch of the King Steer burger follows trends in Europe, the US and Britain, where, adds Ekman, "there is a growing number of fast food consumers who demand an upmarket eat".
Says Halamandaris: "In time we want customers to automatically associate Steers with the King Steer burger. We say that the product is the ultimate burger because it meets the demands we have been able to identify, using our intimate knowledge of the local market. The King Steer burger combines taste, quality and volume to cater to these demands."
Halamandaris says the launch of the King Steer burger is the final chapter in the development of a "new generation" Steers, which started four years ago with a revamp of the store network.
Steers has high hopes for its new burger and will follow it up with a smaller version later in the year.
Burgers lie at the heart of the Steers success story. Founder of the group, the late George Halamandres (father of the current CE John Halamandres), introduced the first steak ranches to South Africa in the early 1960s and was a pioneer of food franchising in this country. Steers built up a loyal following through its burgers and this is one aspect of the business which has not changed.
Says Theofanis Halamandaris: "The King Steer burger is what our customers have told us they want out of a burger. We still see the burger as being very much key to our future success."
A key difference between the new menu and its predecessor is the promotion of combination meals rather than single items. This is a proven way of generating increased spend per customer.
"The move worldwide is towards combinations," says Ekman. "Customers want more balanced and nutritious foods, in combination. They don't want junk food.
"We will still offer a standard menu for those who want to order single items, but the packaging of the food in attractive, value-for-money combinations and boxes will make these the dominant items on the menu."
The Steers children's menu, called the Brat Pack and which includes toys as give-aways, remains a popular choice, driven largely by the "pester power" children have over their parents. Special promotions for children remain a feature of the new menu.
The new menu was first piloted at the Steers' Drive-Through in Alberton before it was extended to eight other stores. In each case there was a marked increase in sales.
By March 29 the new menu will be available in all 250 Steers outlets, most of which have been revamped to reflect a more contemporary image.
Halamandaris has a simple philosophy when it comes to marketing menu items: advertise with big, bold, mouth-watering photographs.
One store piloting the new menu experienced an eight-fold increase in sales on one menu item after poster advertising.
"It's been proven, time and again, customers prefer to buy menu items that they can 'sample' by way of photographs, which must be big, bright and appetising. This is a departure from past practice, when we posted rather small photographs of the menu items in our stores."
A TV and cinema advertising campaign was launched in January to promote the new menu and this will be followed by a countrywide launch party at all outlets on March in 29.