Carl’s Jr.

Dec 17, 2020 | Report Announcements

Carl’s Jr. is a regional chain with a West Coast orientation and a large burger mix. Key brand attributes include: affordable burgers with double patties; premium Thickburger Angus platform; charbroiling for burgers & certain chicken sandwiches; bold flavor options (addressing its large exposure to the Hispanic demo); hand-breaded chicken tenders; made-from-scratch biscuits; and milkshakes made with hand-scooped ice cream. A better burger positioning at QSR prices compliments its very compelling $2.99 Charbroiled Double Deals. Chicken sandwiches include all-natural charbroiled chicken breast fillet options (fire-cooked flavor straight off a backyard BBQ grill) and healthful options appealing to a broader audience include: Beyond Famous Star & Beyond Sausage Breakfast Biscuits (plant based protein); lettuce wrap option; gluten free options and side salad (fry substitute). Notably, Carl’s post-lockdown prospects are favorable given an increased demand for drive-thru access. Further, Carl’s benefits from California’s severe dine-in lockdown policies which helps transfer restaurant market share to the drive-thrus. Also, a significant innovation ramp-up in 2020 helps increase trial/brand reach during a post-lockdown period when drive-thru QSR brands are in high demand. Having said all this, the chain’s historical pre-lockdown comp under-performance reflected: impact of high-end positioning during an extended period of consumer weakness & competitive discounting; disproportionately high unemployment rate among young hungry males previously targeted by Carl’s Jr.; smaller system scale which translates into less media share of voice; lack of digital access; and a lack of breakfast all-day availability. Further, high rent and labor costs on the West Coast make it difficult for the brand to sustain price value in a price sensitive market and, while the brand would like more recognition for its larger patty size, it is not clear that customers will pay-up for bigger patties. The brand’s smaller scale and share of voice necessitates elevated ad spend as a % of sales and makes it difficult to support development outside of core markets. Net unit count declines over the last 3 calendar years also reflect a relatively low sales-to-investment ratio. In conclusion, while Carl’s Jr. benefits as a drive-thru purveyor of tasty burgers in a post-lockdown world, the chain must ultimately deal with its need to compete around price value while navigating the elevated operating costs of the West Coast.

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