Which came first, the chicken or the egg? But in the case of the current QSR "pretzel-bun-mania," I find myself asking the question "Which came first, the Sonic pretzel hot dog bun or Wendy's pretzel hamburger bun?"
I have relentlessly searched the Internet for an answer to this question, but I cannot find either company claiming they were first to market. I could use some reader help for this question. I would like to find the answer to this question because I could declare one of the companies as "technology innovator-of-the-year." And I would like to be able to identify where the innovation started — in R&D, in Marketing, or an idea offered up by a store employee.
The big marketing picture
But as a food innovation blogger, I sometimes search for the bigger picture regarding why two large QSR restaurant chains would spend hours of corporate R&D and Marketing time to develop essentially the same product with different applications. Or maybe a savvy bread supplier successfully sold one company on the idea, and then caught a plane late in the day to show a second restaurant chain the same product on the following morning. If the latter is true, then I hope the supplier is making a healthy profit as their reward. But there must be a bigger picture here, and maybe it represents QSR marketing wizards what the rest of us have known for a long time — hot dogs and hamburgers are primarily marketed to males. Think Chick-fil-A selling fresh salads to women!
While considering the connection between pretzel buns and male consumers, I immediately thought of the success Coca-Cola has enjoyed selling Coke Zero to the male population. And then I realized that I had put the puzzle pieces together. The advent and combination of pretzel buns and Coke Zero is the perfect QSR male-only daypart menu item. But honestly, I can enjoy Coke Zero without all the calories of a pretzel bun sandwich.
Salad sales plateau
This particular focus on the male-driven hot dog and hamburger products is in my mind a clear admission that salad sales have plateaued, and restaurants must drive sales with the male consumer. As a result, the male consumer can expect to be bombarded with a slew of new products over the next few years, as chains try to eke out sales growth numbers.
Do pretzel buns represent new product innovation?
Hardly, pretzel buns have been served up by master bakers for decades. They have made soft vs. hard pretzel buns and rolls. They have also served them with salt and without salt. And they have doctored their appearance with numerous slits and crosses. It's all about presenting consumers with old artisan products with new applications. And by the way women, please do give them a try because they look great and are delicious!
Dr. Suderman teaches Innovation Workshops in corporate headquarters and convenient regional locations, and speaks internationally on innovation is such countries as Turkey, Korea and Thailand. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on innovation workshops.
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi.