Thinking Outside the Box

Jack in the Box looks outside the typical “burger & fries” realm for menu innovation.
The prevalence of quick-service restaurants in the United States means that consumers have a choice of several different places to eat, usually within a couple miles of home. Separating one company from another can be a real challenge, but Jack in the Box has been doing just that through a combination of menu innovation and a tireless devotion to food quality and safety.
“We strive to offer compelling, innovative products that are casual-dining friendly, but with the convenience of a drive-thru,” says Tammy Bailey, division vice president of menu marketing and promotions. “We also consider ourselves a challenger brand that does things differently and bucks tradition.”
Bailey says that, as a smaller company than some of its competitors, Jack in the Box is able to respond quickly to consumer desires. The chain introduced its Sirloin Burger, and after seeing its success, soon came out with a Sirloin Steak & Egg Burrito. The product also capitalizes on the growing breakfast segment.
“[Consumers] want high-quality offerings that are portable at breakfast, and the Sirloin Steak & Egg Burrito fit the ticket,” she says. The company has also added to its snack menu, introducing a Sampler Trio of spicy chicken bites, stuffed jalapenos and mozzarella cheesesticks.
“As a challenger brand, we don’t want to introduce a ‘me-too’ product. So, we have to find just the right offering that delivers something more unique and more satisfying than our competitors,” Bailey notes.
Jack in the Box has long been at the forefront of the restaurant industry in terms of food safety. Dave Theno, senior vice president, quality and logistics, says that the foodservice industry has become very transparent when it comes to food safety, and he proudly notes that Jack in the Box has led that charge.
“Anything that’s good for food safety ought to be good for everyone,” Theno notes. “We have an open invitation to anyone, including our most fierce direct competitors, to come in, and we’ll benchmark our food-safety systems with them.”
He says that many companies in the foodservice industry, as well as the military and school lunch programs, have taken the company up on that invitation. Theno even served as the keynote speaker, covering the topic of food safety, at a Sonic franchise convention one year. Jack in the Box was the first restaurant company to implement a hazard analysis critical control points (HACCP) system in its locations.
“We used the model that a restaurant is really just a little factory. We turned our food-safety programs into a management tool instead of just another task that had to be done,” Theno says. The company also pioneered the control of E. coli O157:H7 through microbial sampling of finished products and raw materials.
“Many people said it couldn’t be done and was a useless exercise, but our data clearly showed there was a lot of control available at the plants if you selected people that were exercising that control.”
With 2,100 locations spread across 17 states, the company’s goal is to reach nationwide while maintaining its reputation as an admired brand.
“There are a lot of opportunities for us as a brand to continue to grow,” Bailey says. “We still have geographic growth opportunities and market penetration opportunities.”
 — Sam Gazdziak