Feb 5, 2021 | Report Announcements

Sonic enjoys strong brand equity (particularly in core South & Central Plains markets) around its drive-in format with car stalls, friendly carhops and a plethora of specialty drinks & frozen treats. Its unique drive-in format increases the chance that every customer will be first in line, served by car hops (brand ambassadors) that help to generate high scores for friendliness. This format also allows customers to take their time ordering without concern about slowing a drive-thru line. The brand’s current re-branding effort includes: the theme that Sonic provides an oasis in everyone’s daily routine with drive-in service providing a fun “summer mindset” experience; a tagline tweak from “this is how to Sonic” to “this is how we Sonic”; new ads featuring families/groups of real customers having fun parked in a Sonic stall (this is how WE Sonic…); a logo upgrade & new color palettes for packaging to communicate change; and a new, more relevant “Delight” prototype. Sonic’s re-branding reflects a current consumer lifestyle characterized by a daily grind marked by insufficient time & money. To this end, Sonic is portrayed as providing an escape from the grind, offering stressed consumers with fun breaks/special time between driving family from daycare to sports as an example. The emphasis is on a prevalent car culture and Sonic’s offer of freedom is to choose access (drive-in, drive-thru, order-ahead) and to choose from nearly unlimited menu combination options. Sonic’s craveable & fun (made-to-order) menu items span 5 dayparts (drinks, desserts & sides drive snack hour sales) with the full menu available all day and it is notable that the chain’s plethora of high margin, unique drink/treat options generate strong trial & appeal to women who generate the most traffic and transactions (especially during happy hour when drinks & slushes are offered at 1/2 price). Notably, the system’s 2019 comp turnaround reflected: increased product innovation; price increases; and new order ahead functionality. This was continued with 2020 comp strength which reflected Sonic’s post-lockdown advantage of offering not just drive-thru service, but an opportunity for families/groups/individuals to get out of their house to eat-out in the safety of their own car in a drive-in stall. However, over the long-term and after a return to normal, Sonic must still address how to drive higher average checks from drink/dessert customers sufficient to bring its AUV closer to the segment average. Also, Sonic must face its ongoing challenge to gain sufficient share of voice in new markets (particularly in colder climates where frozen drinks/treats have seasonal appeal) in order to fulfill its goal of achieving a national footprint. In conclusion, Sonic’s positioning works well in a post-lockdown world and hopefully the brand will be able to leverage this window to drive higher tickets in core markets and greater frequency in newer markets.

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