Will Burger King's October Promotion Pay Off?

by: John Gordon

The Burger King (BKC) $1 double cheeseburger campaign starts nationally on October 19. For Burger King, its high stakes. For the QSR sector, its a way to detect whether the $1 value focus will actually pay off.

In its August 25th earnings call, CEO John Chidsey indicated they were happy with the early $1 double results in about 40 markets. Earlier this year, Burger King and its franchisees failed twice to come to agreement to promote it, and these must be test markets or company markets.

Burger King noted the $1 double promotion narrowed the traffic losses it was realizing earlier, and market profitability outperformed the assumed gross profit dilution. The VP of Strategy said it was a superior sandwich at an exceptional value. And, they declined to provide actual traffic gains in these markets.

While these words aren't very specific, this will be a big event to watch. The chain restaurants operators are separating into a value focus vs. non-value focus marketing strategy group. They all hope to execute the barbell strategy, drawing people in and then trading them up. But a few companies, like Carl's/Hardees (CKR), Panera (NASDAQ:PNRA), Red Robin (NASDAQ:RRGB), California Pizza Kitchen (NASDAQ:CPKI) and Cheesecake Factory (NASDAQ:CAKE), say they won't discount. But they all have value oriented items but won't feature it in the media.

No one wants to discount, but the publicly traded chains are starved for comps. They are beaten silly by the business press and the analyst community if there is not a perfect upward line.

Burger King will have a big traffic breakeven that it must generate to offset the average check loss. Success isn't guaranteed. This is important for them, as their sales trend line had been weakening for some time, but went negative in May, 2009. And the analysts are reacting, one down grade last week from Stifel and an essentially negative comment from Citi. And, the franchisee relationships and profitability are in play, as well.

Disclosure: No stock positions