Boston Pizza looks to fatten up its burger share by turning beef menu into ‘destination’


Boston Pizza wants to take a bigger bite out of the burger market.

Canada’s largest casual dining restaurant chain has its sights set on doubling its burger market share within the full-service restaurant sector to overtake current leader White Spot, a family dining staple in B.C. and Alberta.


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B.C.-based Boston Pizza added burgers to its menu six years ago and burgers account for 3.7 per cent of its sales at its 375 restaurants across the country.

But executives realized a change was in order when they determined the chain trailed behind its rivals in consumers’ minds when it came to burgers.

“We were literally at the bottom” of a list ranking Canadians’ picks of large dining chains offering burgers, research showed, said Steve Silverstone, executive vice-president of marketing at Boston Pizza.

“With the rise of independent chains that specialize in (burgers), burgers have really become a destination item,” he added. “And as we listened to our guests, the feedback was that our burger was just OK.”

The company decided to revamp its burger recipes, using only Canadian-sourced beef, simple ingredients and a brioche bun, as well as adding some new burger varieties. The category will be promoted heavily through a new national marketing campaign this summer.

“Forty-two per cent of Canadians consume burgers once a week or more, so we think the opportunity is there,” Silverstone said.

The rebirth of burgers began in the depths of the recession, when small “fast-casual” burger chains selling gourmet burgers began to pop up across the U.S. and Canada. While those establishments took off, the period also marked the beginning of a profound decline in the full-service restaurant sector from which it has yet to recover.

Annual sales at full-serve restaurants declined by 1.9 per cent to $21.5 billion to the end of May, according to market research firm NPD Group Canada, while sales at quick-service restaurants rose 4.7 per cent to $25.4 billion.

At the same time, quick-service establishments such as McDonald’s Corp. saw their dine-in visits rise by six per cent during the year, while on-premise dining at full-serve casual dining establishments fell two per cent.

Sales in the full service restaurant sector have been flat to declining for eight years, according to NPD. Full-service dining establishments in Canada used to have annual sales higher than $25 billion, and a greater market share than their quick-service counterparts.

For Boston Pizza’s part, Silverstone says the 51-year-old company is focused on capturing more market share. Its sales rose 4.7 per cent in fiscal 2015, to $1.06 billion, and sales at stores open for more than a year rose 1.8 per cent.

“Arguably the most competitive market is Ontario, and we have consistently grown share ahead of our competitors,” he said.

“We have been challenged, along with the rest of the industry, in the places where the economy is not as strong, like northern and central Alberta.”

Silverstone estimates Boston Pizza will be able to double its sales of burgers by the end of the year to about eight per cent of its overall sales mix, which would make it the top casual dining restaurant for burgers.

With the rise of independent chains that specialize in (burgers), burgers have really become a destination item.

Andris Pone, president of Coin Branding in Toronto, said Boston Pizza has done a decent job over time in letting customers know that its menu features items other than pizza.

“Pursuing a stronger positioning around burgers isn’t too far-fetched for them,” he said. Still, he added, the broader positioning of Boston Pizza is aching for a reinvention, and has been showing signs of wear along with the rest of the full-service market characterized by chains such as Milestones and Kelsey’s.

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“I don’t think there is a lot going on in that area of the market,” Pone said. “The real innovation has happened among those who have moved more upscale over time — Moxies, Joeys, Earls and Cactus Club.”

Source: Financial Post


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