Mar 9, 2020 | Report Announcements

Church’s Chicken (a 67+ year old regional brand) specializes in Southern-style, hand-battered, double-breaded fried bone-in chicken (available in Original & Spicy) which is marinated for 12 hours & freshly prepared throughout the day in small batches and complimented by its freshly baked home-style sides and scratch-made Honey Butter Biscuits to form a complete meal for individuals & families. Its recent brand refresh is designed to bring Church’s back “down-home” to its Texas roots (real meals made by real people with the bold spirit of Texas). Primary elements of the refresh include: a menu evolution that stays within its guests’ “consideration set”, based upon its reputation for quality food, big portions, lots of choices, innovative flavor & good value; the first national TV campaign in 10 years; a sharper focus on integrated digital marketing which extends the brand’s reach uniformly across all demos & geographies; customer access improvements; and a facility refresh with bolder colors. Church’s repositioning seeks to move it away from its historic positioning as a deep discounter to a leader in value for the price paid. “Bringin’ That Down Home Flavor” campaign features TV spots shot in a test kitchen environment with close-up camera work highlighting fresh ingredients & prep. The chain also benefits from a simplified operational and data-driven management approach which compliments the 2018 formation of an Excellence Advisory Council consisting of franchisees and corporate leaders tasked with leading the brand. Notably, corporate reports recent increases in overall guest satisfaction, speed of service and likelihood to return. 3rd party delivery (launched in early 2019) is available at 70% of the system and drives 50% incrementality. The current 3% delivery mix is expected to grow to 6% to 8% over time. In the Spring of 2019, Church’s also launched order-ahead/pay-ahead and pickup. Delivery & order-ahead has added $1,000/week for many stores and this added profitability has provided many operators with an incentive to invest in capex. Sales trends have been steadily improving since 2016 and 2018 comps were positive for the first time in 3 years with 2019 comps improving from there as the brand’s repositioning gained traction with positive traffic during the year driven by the tremendous success of its Bourbon Black Pepper Smokehouse Chicken summertime LTO, generating double-digit comp growth even in the brand’s “ultra-competitive” markets (Carolinas, Atlanta, Chicago & New Orleans). While we like what we see in terms of the repositioning, Church’s need for AUV growth is evident by an under-performing EBITDAR margin that is currently at a system low. Also, press reports indicated that Church’s private equity owner (FFL Partners) shopped the brand for sale during the summer of 2019 which detracts from the possibility of providing the chain with sufficient stability over time for its repositioning to become fully established. In conclusion, Church’s is executing around a well-conceived turn-around plan that is beginning to gain traction at the same time consumer demand for all things chicken continues strongly.

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