Burger King's CEO reveals how Chicken Fries helped reinvent how the chain thinks about food

Hollis JohnsonBurger King’s Chicken Fries.
  • Burger King brought Chicken Fries back to its menu in 2014, after a college student in the company’s Leadership Development Program noticed people talking about the beloved menu item on social media.
  • Chicken Fries were a huge hit and became a permanent menu item. It also sparked a major shift in Burger King’s strategy, according to José Cil, the CEO of the chain’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International.
  • “I think the key lesson was that everything starts with understanding what the guest wants,” Cil said.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Chicken Fries sparked a revolution at Burger King.

In 2014, Burger King was in the early stages of a turnaround effort. The chain had undergone a massive restructuring effort after being acquired by investment firm 3G in 2010. The menu had been simplified to speed up service, and CEO Daniel Schwartz and President José Cil had been accelerating international expansion.

Then came the return of a product that would help spark a seismic shift in how Burger King evaluated its menu: Chicken Fries.

“One of probably the biggest moments in the business from a shift-in-mindset standpoint was when we re-launched the Chicken Fries,” Cil, who was named CEO of Burger King’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International, in January, recently told Business Insider.

“It was a great example of our team mining social media and connecting with our younger guests,” Cil said. “We have a very loyal following of millions of guests, and they were demanding Chicken Fries.”

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Cheeto Chicken Fries 1Hollis JohnsonBurger King’s Chicken Fries.

Chicken Fries had been removed from the menu years before. But, customers were demanding their return on social media, with some going as far as creating a Change.org petition to bring back the menu item.

According to Cil, a college student in the company’s Leadership Development Program was the one who made the case to bring back Chicken Fries. Apparently, the trainee noticed that social media data was dominated by people calling for Chicken Fries to come back.

“We did more research,” Cil said. “We did some focus-group testing. We developed a product, innovated on the product, on the packaging as well, tested it, and saw that it was going to resonate well, and we launched it.”

The Chicken Fries were an immediate hit and became a permanent menu item in 2015. Beyond simply driving sales, they helped Burger King and Restaurant Brands International develop a new menu strategy that has yielded items from Mac n’ Cheetos to a $US5 monthly coffee subscription deal.

Read more:
Burger King is selling a month of coffee for just $US5 – the price of a large cappuccino at Starbucks

“I think the key lesson was that everything starts with understanding what the guest wants,” Cil said.

“When you get too internalized and too focused on strategies that don’t pay attention to what the guests are looking for, you see companies and brands lose focus,” he continued. “Our learning from that exercise was that we need to start everything we do thinking about the guest.”

Read the full interview with José Cil.

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