Fast Food On Demand: QSR's Quick-Change Pandemic Response

Original article can be found here.

Fast Food On-Demand

Every industry had to change fast in the face of the pandemic, but one could easily argue the fast food industry had to change the fastest. As “essential” businesses they had to go from on-site dining to on-demand service nearly overnight. The Advertising Club of NY and Kargo wanted to dig deeper into how the QSR industry faced these challenges and what’s next for fast food.  Kargo CEO Harry Kargman led a meaty discussion with Andrew Rebhun, Chief Digital Officer, El Pollo Loco; George Felix, CMO, Pizza Hut; Adrienne Ingoldt, CMO, Jack in the Box; and Renato Rossi, Head of Marketing, NA, Burger King. 

We’ve recapped the discussion below, but you can also watch the full video below:

New Business Models with a Side of Speed

The conversation kicked off with a look at how the brands shifted from dine-in to takeout in short order. Jack in the Box and Pizza Hut were well positioned with drive thru and pick-up options already in place. Pizza Hut was the first pizza chain to get curbside pickup operating. El Pollo Loco built out their curbside pick-up program in six weeks to keep up with consumer demand, but also offered free delivery via Postmates. This increased their delivery volume 5x on the app. Burger King was ready with robust drive-thru and third-party delivery options.

The Consumer Shift

State and local lockdowns changed how our panelists’ brands did business. Changing consumer behaviors shaped how their businesses fared. With the reduced dining options available, Burger King saw a rise in first-time customers. These more affluent newbies tended to order the pricier Whopper over hamburgers or cheeseburgers. Burger King’s lower-income consumers traded down to less-expensive and/or value meals. Jack in the Box also saw bigger orders as people were now feeding their entire families rather than picking up something quick on a commute home. But the chain also expanded its offerings of sides to provide more options for low-income diners. 

Marketing Moves

With new patterns in food consumption came new patterns in media consumption. In the wake of canceled sport seasons and other TV programming, consumers were spending more time than ever streaming and connecting on social media. This forced almost all of our panelists to shift dollars to digital. Jack in the Box amplified their partnership with Twitch to take advantage of the steep increase in gaming during the lockdowns. Pizza Hut sought out their sports fan audience on social and through gaming, too. El Pollo Loco amplified their digital spend from 5% of their overall marketing budget to 30%. 

Campaign creative had to pivot, too. Burger King had to shelve their March Madness promotions in favor of messaging around contactless pick-up/delivery. Pizza Hut and El Pollo Loco focused on tamper-proof packaging to allay consumer fears. Jack in the Box took an empathetic approach, reiterating that they were there for their consumers as well as touching on safety protocols.

What Needs is QSR Feeding?

We wanted to hear from our audience about their experiences as QSR consumers and marketers, so we hosted three polls during the webinar. Our first asked “What was the main reason you visited a QSR recently?” 

The leading answers didn’t really surprise our panelists—QSR was an easy pit-stop while running errands and it was instant relief for people sick of cooking. These consumer motivations led Pizza Hut to really streamline their curbside service, adding a new “I’m here” button to make it easier for their teams to spot customers in their cars and to know whether to place an order in the backseat or trunk depending on preferences. Jack in the Box expanded their menu to give consumers more choice and more reasons to come back. 

Planning for the Future

Our second poll question asked what would impact consumer behaviors the most in the coming months. Three answers rose to the top: a vaccine, the return of nightlife and sports and back-to-work commuting.

Our panelists were less optimistic about a vaccine bringing patrons back inside the dining rooms in full force, and all are ready to continue amping up pickup and delivery experiences. Jack in the Box is looking forward to the return of nightlife and sports, both of which played well with the chain’s late night hours.

What QSR Trend is Here to Stay?

Our third poll focused on which recent innovations would outlast the pandemic. Both our audience and panelists landed on the same trends: brand app development and third-party delivery partnerships. 

All of our panelists have third-party delivery partnerships, but see an opportunity for branded apps to play a bigger role in that end of their business. Burger King and El Pollo Loco are looking to beef up loyalty programs on their apps, too.

Foodie or Techie?

With this new reliance on technology for QSR distribution and CRM, it wasn’t surprising that our last audience question of the session boldly asked: Are you tech companies or food companies. We only had time to hear from Burger King and Jack in the Box, and both burger chains firmly proclaimed they’re all about the food. Digital is a means of enhancing the experience, but people can’t dine on 1s and 0s.

That’s just some of the food for thought that emerged from this session. Please watch it to hear directly from the panelists and be wowed by how fast they all pivoted their businesses and marketing to better serve their fans.