The legendary casual chain lost its way for about a decade, but it's back, with a familiar, down-home brand positioning and a fresh marketing campaign to get the word out.
In the third quarter of 2016, only 34 percent of Casual Dining brands reported positive comparable sales. Casual dining was riding eight consecutive months of declining sales. Some of the biggest names in the category—Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, and Chili’s were mired in steep sales and traffic slumps.
Many blamed millennials as the cause for the downturn, but in many cases, it just wasn’t true. Applebee’s parent Dine Brands’ CEO Stephen Joyce called the millennial death sentence “false news”. Younger diners weren’t constricting Applebee’s growth, in fact about half of the resurgent chain’s guest are under the age of 34.
Brands looked at demographic megatrends and came away with this urgent thought: We’ve got to reinvent ourselves to fit the needs and desires of millennials who have
grown up in a different generation, with different experiences.
Bob Evans discovered its original DNA was actually very appealing to millennial customers. It wasn’t outdated. This being the idea of “America’s Farm Fresh”.
Bob Evans was sold in January 2017 to Golden Cate Capital, which also owns California Pizza Kitchen, for $565 million.
Their CMO Bob Holtcamp stated “Customers crave authenticity. That’s our whole purpose—not only delivering to the consumer authentic, real farm fresh products, but also cooking things in a rural, country, farm-driven way.”
Holtcamp says its strength remains in putting products in front of guests they can instantly recognize. Then deliver that promise with real, authentic cooking. “It’s slow roasted. It’s simmered. It’s not microwaved,” he says.
“One of the surest ways to distance your brand from a younger audience and lose your older one is to try to reinvent yourself outside of the company’s space”, Holtcamp says.
Holtcamp says Bob Evans will turn up the dial on its digital marketing going forward by “Getting in front of those channels consumers are using, and do so in a seamless, authentic way that gets consumers excited about the brand.”
Bob Evans is still remodeling some stores to get this updated feature into place. It wants to promote a “farmhouse kitchen” feel that encourages socialization.