What is in this article?:
- CMO Perspectives: Corner Bakery Café's Diana Hovey
- Thriving in fast casual
This interview is part of CMO Perspectives, presented by NRN in partnership with the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executives Group. The monthly feature explores how leading executives are navigating the ever-changing restaurant marketing landscape.
Diana Hovey, chief marketing officer for Corner Bakery Café
Thriving in fast casual
Corner Bakery has posted caloric information and served healthful menu items for some time now. How have they performed? Was there any pushback from guests?
More than four years ago, we developed a comprehensive nutritional brochure for all cafes, and it was very well received. We found that guests appreciated our transparency, and they discovered that there were quite a few menu options that fit into their diets and lifestyles. It’s been almost three years since we introduced calories on our menu boards in all company markets and in several franchise locations. We’ve seen no negative response or mix shift.
At the same time, we’ve been introducing additional programs that give our guests greater control and choice in their menu selections. Our 100 Under 600 offering provides more than 100 Corner Combos under 600 calories. We offer two sizes of our signature salads and pastas to give our guests more choices for portion, calories and value.
What has helped Corner Bakery thrive in an extremely competitive bakery-café segment?
Corner Bakery was created 22 years ago by Rich Melman as a small bakery on a corner in downtown Chicago. Over the years, we’ve stayed true to Rich’s advice and have always listened to our guests, who are quite vocal and very possessive of their local “corner.” As a marketer, I spend a lot of my time talking with them, whether it is sitting in their living rooms, discussing product ideas in the test kitchen or following their many comments online. As a brand team, we also have a very strong culture, with one of the longest tenured hourly, management and executive teams in the industry.
What will separate competitors in fast casual in the future?
We’re in the sweetest spot of the industry. It’s interesting to watch the growth and evolution of the segment as more and more brands join the ranks. It’s also interesting to watch the adjacent industry segments seek a piece of the fast-casual pie — whether that is casual dining with new lunch offers or quick service with its heightened focus on quality.
For success in fast casual, brands must be continually focused on product innovation using fresh ingredients. Consumers are looking for crave-able dishes, customizable and made to order. They’re all Food Network junkies, looking for menu items made with ingredients they might not have in their own refrigerator. We bring in more than 40 different types of fresh produce and are focused on dishes that capture the freshest flavors of the season.
Technology will play a big role in making brands more accessible. Time is “the new black” for consumers. We continue to see significant growth in our catering business, which already represents more than 20 percent of our $2.3 million annual unit volumes. Online ordering for catering has been extremely well received and is further indication that today’s consumer is all about control and saving time.
What restaurant chain other than your own do you think does a great job?
I am particularly impressed with Moe’s Southwest Grill and the tremendous results they’ve seen from their product innovation and technology-based initiatives.
Which marketing trends outside foodservice should be incorporated into our industry?
Personalized experiences on “my terms” are key for today’s consumer and are a key brand differentiator. Not only do our guests expect to be recognized and greeted by name, they also want us to know that they want extra basil on their Chicken Pomodori Panini. Today’s consumer is not a number; they see themselves as part of a brand’s family. We want to make sure we never take that for granted.