While other burger chains scramble to expand customization, Roy Rogers has been there and done that for more than 40 years so it occasionally moves in the other direction. The 50-store Mid-Atlantic chain is reviving its Tumbleweed Burger as a limited-time special that doesn’t need a stop at Roy’s iconic Fixin’s Bar, where diners have always topped their burgers just as they desire.
“Because we sell our burgers undressed and let people build to suit, periodically we offer LTO burgers where we sell a fully dressed sandwich with items we don’t have available in the dining room,” says Jeff Mulliken, director of procurement for Roy Rogers Franchising Co. “It gives people the convenience of a sandwich they can eat right then without dressing it and it allows us to offer toppings—like the fried onion straws, a hot topping—that we don’t have on our standard Fixin’s Bar. And it gives some menu variety, which you need. If you have loyal guests, you need to keep them entertained.”
The Tumbleweed’s sharp Cheddar isn’t a choice offered on the Fixin’s Bar and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce brings some added glow. “We use a lot of recognized brand ingredients,” says Mulliken. “Sweet Baby Ray’s is a well-thought-of brand; people see it at retail and recognize it as a premium item. When they see it in a burger setting they’re impressed that it’s not a mystery product, it’s one that, when they’re feeling flush, they buy at home.
“We use Hormel Cure 81 ham on our Double R Burger and have for many years. We haven’t bragged enough about it. When you’re running an LTO you want it to say something and send a quality message. Using a recognized brand does that.”
Roy Rogers’ marketing plan skewed heavily to chicken in the first half, reflecting poultry prices that were friendlier than beef. Beef prices have come down some but “we’re committed to beef,” Mulliken says. “We’re not going to go all year without promoting burgers just because beef is expensive.”
Mulliken sees the burger marketplace polarizing between value-priced “bottom feeders” and higher-price, higher-quality brands like Roy Rogers. “That segment of consumers who have a few bucks in their pockets is far more discerning about quality,” he says. “They’re expecting a better experience and you need to make sure you’re delivering that. There’s a lot of people serving a pretty good burger.”