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engineering_a_menu_that_sells.jpgAs a chef, one of the hardest things to come to terms with is when something you make or create isn’t quite a home run. Or — even worse — when a new idea you are trying out bombs miserably. Being an R&D chef can be particularly challenging in this way because what you are being paid to do is think outside the box and push the envelope to come up with something new to generate more customers and more sales. Sure, it would be easy to simply copy standard flavor profiles and put bacon on everything. Or pair smoked turkey with avocado. Those are easy wins – and what everyone else is doing. Certainly there are many chains out there that have been moderately successful doing just that. There is familiarity in classic combinations.

There is no denying that the best-selling bread for us is Honey Whole Wheat and the soup that flies out the door the fastest on any given day is anything that resembles chicken noodle or a classic tomato. We sell more turkey sandwiches than almost all of the other meats combined. But that does not mean we stay stagnant on menu and product development. To keep customers interested and coming back, it is essential to keep the options interesting and the flavors always developing.

honey_whole_wheat_star_product.jpgNot everything works the first time I try it — or at all. Which can be challenging, especially when you have a table full of tasters picking apart all aspects of a particular item. Important to do, though, so that when a product heads out to our bakeries it has already been put through a rigorous tasting process. While it can be hard to hear critical feedback, it is an important part of the development process. I try (often unsuccessfully) to remove my emotions and feelings about a particular product or flavor combination and listen through the noise.

I was reminded of the need to have a varied and deep menu with options for everybody yesterday as we were doing one of the final group tasting exercises on the new product lines when it became clear that one person’s favorite is another’s “I’d never order that.” Having something for (almost) everybody on your menu is important since there are varied likes and dislikes. There are mushroom haters and lovers, folks cursed with the cilantro gene, vegetarians, and people who want double meat on their sandwich with no greenery coming anywhere near their mouths. 

By the same token, it is important to add and remove menu items as necessary to keep the menu from growing exponentially bigger. One philosophy is to remove the lowest selling items from your menu and add something new during each period. There are all sorts of advanced menu engineering things we learn as chefs and restauranteurs in culinary school. Terms like Dogs (items that are low in popularity and profitability), Stars (high in popularity and profit), Cash Cows/Workhorses (very popular with less profit margin), and Puzzlers (high profit margin but nobody is buying them).

workhorse_food_products.jpgFor our business, clearly there are Great Harvest items that can fall into all of these categories. The challenge is to engineer a menu that is the as-close-to-perfect balance of profitable items and popular items to maximize sales and profitability.

Loaves of Honey Whole Wheat bread are the Stars of the Great Harvest Franchising world. They are high in profitability and are the top seller. Honey Whole Wheat isn’t going anywhere for obvious reasons. There are sandwiches out there on our menus that we think are really cool and delicious, but they just don’t seem to sell. Those are Dogs that have to go and be replaced by something new that can take its place and create new excitement. Our Workhorses like Cheddar Garlic or Bacon Cheddar Beer really don’t have near the margin that a lower cost bread has, but they are totally delicious, bring people in the door, and have a high contribution margin (more dollars in the register).  We have a few Puzzlers out there as well — breads and sandwiches that have a high profitability but just don’t sell. Time to increase marketing or re-tool the item to make it more appealing.

If you are in the food business, take a hard look at your menu and try to identify the Stars, Dogs, Workhorses, and Puzzlers and re-tool accordingly.

If you aren't in the food business — but want to be:

Learn About Stores for Sale

Read more about product development and how to engineer a menu:

Is a Customer Favorite Getting in the Way of Your Sales?
Should Bakery Product Lines Vary Regionally? Seasonally?
A Sneak Peek at the Crave-Worthy Future of Great Harvest
Test Tastes Work Like Magic for Franchisees and Customers
Tasty Whole Grain Sandwiches Don’t Happen by Chance

I'm Scott Molyneaux and I joined Great Harvest in September 2011 as the Corporate Chef. I am a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York and have worked in various segments of the food industry, including restaurants, large and small scale catering operations, private dining, retail, and lodges over the last 20+ years. At Great Harvest my efforts are focused on research and development of new products, wheat testing and purchasing, and teaching new franchisees how to be phenomenal bakers. I love living in Montana which gives me ample opportunity to pursue my interests of snowboarding, hiking with my dog, camping, riding my ATV in the mountains, playing my guitar, and of course cooking.