Selling fast food these days is not exactly for the faint of heart, given how the industry faces extreme — and increasingly online — competition for the consumer dollar. Those competitive pressures have led to a host of new tools, features and offerings.
Combining cannabis culture with hamburgers.
You might say such a marriage has already happened, given how the stoner stereotype involves massive amounts of munchies. But this is something different. On Saturday (April 20 — not only the day before Easter, but the unofficial stoner holiday known as 4/20), fast food chain Carl’s Jr. reportedly sold out of a burger whose “Santa Fe Sauce” contained cannabidiol (CBD). To drive home the marketing message, the burger was priced at $4.20.
Denver CBD Burger
The promotion took place in Denver, capital of a state where marijuana is legal for recreational purposes. According to reports, consumers eager to buy the burger — specifically, the Carl’s Jr. “Rocky Mountain High CheeseBurger Delight” — were lining up in parking lots before the 6 a.m. opening time at some locations, with burgers selling out by early afternoon.
This is hardly the only recent appearance of CBD in the wider world of food.
Recess, a CBD-infused sparkling water company, has announced that it will be available on Uber Eats for delivery to customers in New York City. The announcement was made on Instagram by the drink company with a post that named Uber Eats as an “app someone made to deliver Recess and McDonald’s.” Recess sees itself as more than just a beverage company, though. It said its mission is centered around relaxation in general. The drinks are infused with hemp oil, and contain ginseng, among other ingredients.
But the larger story here is how fast food operations are striving to stand out in a crowded field and with consumers who are increasingly becoming digital- and mobile-centric. The Carl’s Jr. CBD burger promotion had no direct digital aspect to it, but it is designed not only to win attention but to boost foot traffic — and on a major holiday weekend during which many people eat with family or eat in fancier restaurants then the typical fast-food location.
Coffee, too, is becoming a more important battleground for fast-food chains — especially as more consumers are able to make purchases from their vehicles as the connected car ecosystem expands.
Take Burger King as a recent example of that.
It added an additional sweetener to its breakfast offerings. Instead of paying a dollar or two a day for coffee on the ride to work — netting over $20 a month — Burger King customers can get their morning Java on subscription for $5 a month. The consumer then has a reason to see everything else on the BK breakfast menu in this effort, which combines subscription eCommerce, loyalty and the potential of retail conducted via connected vehicles. As PYMNTS has documented in-depth, every weekday, 135 million people in the U.S. get behind the wheel and drive 51 minutes, round trip, to and from work. Those commuters, according to the PYMNTS Digital Drive Report, spend about $230 billion a year in commuter-inspired purchases.
But don’t think CBD-infused products, or coffee subscriptions, or even more robust mobile offerings are a sure path to success for fast food operations in 2019 and beyond.
As PYMNTS research has also documented, the quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry is on track to continue a decade and a half’s worth of growth this year, with consumers projected to spend more than $256 billion at burger joints, sandwich shops, pizza parlors and other QSRs by the end of this year. And QSRs, for their part, are looking to stay ahead in a fiercely competitive space by working to satisfy consumers’ demand for faster mobile offerings. Industry giants and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) alike, from Starbucks to local pizzerias, are investing in mobile and connected solutions — and reaping the rewards.
But there is more than mobile when it comes to reaching and retaining connected consumers. On the East Coast, for example, consumers seem to be especially fond of order-ahead solutions, with New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the South each seeing growth that outpaced the national average. In regions like the Midwest, Southwest and West, meanwhile, growth lags behind the country’s mean.
As marijuana and cannabis-infused products become more mainstream, it’s not unreasonable to expect more promotions like the one this weekend. But don’t expect that to be the end of it when it comes to fast-food competition, of course.