Family dining restaurant Bob Evans is going after a younger consumer—though not necessarily a young one. The regional restaurant chain, with 569 locations in 18 states, this week begins a campaign from Brunner, Pittsburgh, targeting what it calls “family-first moms.” The push comes as the brand aims to reach beyond its core audience of baby boomers and those ages 65-plus, said Mary Cusick, marketing svp. The new growth target is a Gen X mom who prides herself on delivering a “wholesome, delicious” meal to her family, she said. In this interview, Cusick discussed how the brand is refreshing its image with more health-focused menu items, why the shift to a younger consumer was imperative and how Bob Evans has actually benefited from the recession as some consumers have traded down to the chain from pricier options. Excerpts from that conversation are below.
Brandweek: Tell us about this new campaign,“Discover Farm Fresh Goodness,” that you’re launching this week.
Mary Cusick: The campaign is really an opportunity for us to reach what we consider to be a growth target for our company. We’re calling them our “family-first” targets, heads of households in their mid-40s with children. The Bob Evans restaurant brand is privileged to have a very loyal guest, but that [individual] just happens to be older, without children in the household. So, this is really a chance for us to broaden our relevance in the marketplace and cause this growth target—mom—to reappraise and reconsider what she knows about our restaurants.
BW: What prompted this?
MC: Our research tells us people thought of our brand as stodgy and stuck in the past. I like to call it “a little bit dusty.” Consumers said they would take their mom or grandmother to [our restaurants], but they might not consider us first as a place to take their own family.
BW: How did you decide on family-first moms as the main target?
MC: This consumer is already visiting our restaurants, but we think there’s an opportunity for them to visit us more often…[and] for more occasions and need states. Families are really busy, but for these moms, family is first in terms of time and commitment. The insight that we garnered was that high on these family-first moms’ list is the opportunity for them to connect with their families and bring them together. We want to help make that easy for them. So, for example, she might not just be bringing them in on the weekends for breakfast, but she might come in on a weekday and buy a meal to carry home.
BW: Describe the spots.
MC: It shows a family-first mom [eating out] with her daughter, and they discover how they really enjoy the experience of eating our [new wraps] at one of our restaurants. [The campaign] will be across multiple mediums, [including] traditional broadcast, [but] also social and digital media.
BW: Bob Evans, along with competitors like Denny’s, IHOP and Cracker Barrel, all compete in the family restaurant segment. What’s your outlook for that sector and how it is doing?
MC: As the economy tightened, consumers tended to eat out fewer times, and they also tended to trade down. So, say if you were eating at a high-end casual dining restaurant, then maybe you would have traded to an experience with us. We are really known for great value. We think [the recession] has presented us with a really great opportunity to deliver on great service, hospitality and value. [At the same time,] our footprint is very regional, and we think things like home [foreclosures] and unemployment are causing uncertainty…But we’re cautiously optimistic…A treat for a family is being able to go out to eat. So, that family-first mom is going to bring her family together to connect, sit down, take a breath and catch up with each other.
BW: Aside from the new wraps and smoothies Bob Evans is introducing this week, what are other new innovations?
MC: We have a recent new menu innovation. Our “Fit From the Farm” menu [launched in January], follows the United States Department of Agriculture’s guidelines for healthy lifestyles. We offer breakfast, lunch and dinner options that are 650 calories or less, and even if you ate all three meals at [our restaurants], they would still deliver on the appropriate sodium and fat levels.
BW: What eating trends are driving the industry right now?
MC: There is a lot of consumer interest in food that is most healthful. Our Fit From the Farm menu is a first initiative in this space. We’re also looking at enhancing our current products and working toward a menu that is completely trans fat-free and that really fits into anyone’s diet.
BW: Which mealtime segment is the most popular?
MC: Restaurants in our category traditionally place a high emphasis on breakfast, but it’s fairly divided among all three dayparts. There is a lot of pressure on the breakfast daypart, especially with [the increasing entry] of quick-service restaurants. Subway most recently launched a breakfast [menu], and the McDonald’s of the world have been in breakfast for some time. Then, people are also eating breakfast at home. [To respond to that], we launched our “Taste of the Farm” initiative this January, which portrays the brand in more contemporary terms. [As part of that effort], we now offer family meals and snacks in a broad array of catering, carry out and bakery items.