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Burger King to Debut Branded Snacks
A licensing agreement with The Inventure Group will put the snacks in retail outlets this fall.
Burger King will debut branded potato chips in retail outlets.

Beginning next month Burger King fans can have it their way at vending machines, on airlines, and in grocery, convenience, and drug stores, when the chain plans to lend its name to a line of branded snack chips.

The endeavor is the result of a licensing agreement with national snack food marketer The Inventure Group, which is also behind a line of T.G.I. Friday’s–branded snack fare. The Inventure Group will offer two snack chip flavors under the Burger King name, Ketchup & Fries and a yet-to-be named savory variety that hints at the chain’s flame-broiled burgers.

“A few years back we decided from a strategic vantage point that we wanted to get aggressively into the licensing arena,” says Russ Klein, president of global marketing, strategy, and innovation for Burger King Corp. “We’ve been aggressively pushing the brand into places beyond the expected.”

The chips, which are trans fat-free, will roll out in single-serving sizes of 1.0 ounce and 1.75 ounces for vending machines and on airlines, 2.5- or 3.0-ounce sizes for convenience stores, and 5.5-ounce bags to be available in grocery stores. By spring 2008, a second rollout will put them in price clubs and additional grocery stores as 20- and 25-ounce variety packs.

The chain will also market the products in Northeast locations and select stores throughout the system as 100-calorie packs. Whether they will serve as a healthier replacement for fries or as a separate snacking item is yet to be determined, Klein says.

“This kind of ties into [Burger King’s] whole ‘Have it your way’ concept,” explains Steve Sklar, senior vice president of marketing for The Inventure Group. “This is just another option that they can offer.”

After the initial U.S. release The Inventure Group and Burger King plan to take the snacks global.

“As we look to build our brand around the globe, ventures like this give us added reach,” Klein says.

Proceeds from the effort will be funneled back into Burger King’s marketing fund, something analysts say will please franchise partners who might otherwise have been skittish about the project.

“It will eliminate any concern on the part of franchise partners that this might be siphoning off business from unit sales,” says Melissa Wilson, a principal at research and consulting firm Technomic.

A spokeswoman at the National Franchisee Association (NFA), which serves the Burger King franchisee community, declined to comment on the effort, saying it’s not the policy of the NFA to speak about ongoing marketing activities by the corporate office.

This is Burger King’s first foray into the retail snack market, though the chain has experimented with licensing in the past, including lending its name to a series of Microsoft Xbox 360 video games in 2006. To date, more than 3.2 million of the games have been sold, Klein says.

The snacks, some analysts say, could become an equally lucrative outlet for the brand.

“This really feels like it could be a pretty significant revenue generator for them,” says Rachel Thomas, director of strategic services for brand design agency MiresBall. “I think it’s probably a smart short-term move. My question is, ‘Is it going to be a good thing in the long term?’”

If current snacking trends continue, the answer could be yes. According to the 2007 Food & Health Survey, conducted by the International Food Information Council, a whopping 93 percent of Americans consume at least one snack per day. In addition, 58 percent reported an attempt to reduce portion sizes, which could bode well for the 100-calorie packs.

The snack chip initiative comes four years deep into a turnaround effort by Burger King. In late August, the chain reported a fourth-quarter profit where a year earlier there had been a loss. The upswing comes after the chain expanded hours, debuted a breakfast value menu, and opened hundreds of new restaurants over the past year.

The timing of the snack line release, however, has nothing to do with Burger King’s turn of fortune, Klein insists.

“This is about Burger King brand management strategies that have been patently unconventional since the day the turnaround began,” he says.

Wilson agrees.

“Clearly the numbers have looked good for the past few years,” she says. “I think it just speaks to a new approach to branding and product development.”

Thomas, on the other hand, suggests another motive.

“It either shows that they’re healthier and feeling more aggressive or that their core business is maturing and needs a little freshening up,” she says. “It could be one or the other or a combination of both those factors.”

Jamie Hartford is a freelance writer and former QSR associate editor based in Portland, Oregon.