« July 2006 Table of Contents
In the Kitchen: Catch Alaska promos set Country Kitchen apart
Partnering with ASMI helps national chain test seafood items as specials before joining core menu
By Joan M. Lang
July 01, 2006
The tradition-bound family segment is not known as a leader
in seafood sales. But as consumer interest in seafood and other
"better-for-you" menu items grows, Country Kitchen Restaurants,
a 145-unit national chain, intends to grow along with it.
"We want to set ourselves apart from the rest of the
family-dining segment," says Donette Beattie, VP of purchasing
and new-product development for the Madison, Wis.-based
company, "and we see seafood as a significant menu-item
category for us."
In addition to having standard performers like fried jumbo
shrimp and battered Alaska cod on its core menu, Country
Kitchen is experimenting with various non-fried seafood items.
The chain is also having tremendous success with its annual
Catch Alaska promotion, which wrapped up its second run in late
As with all its menu promotions, Country Kitchen's Lenten
Catch Alaska program has proved a valuable testing platform for
core menu-item additions. Last year's success with Alaska cod
landed that item on the company's core menu, and this year's
salmon burger - available both as a sandwich and in a salad -
is likely to follow suit this fall.
Shrimp is already a major menu player for the company.
"Eight years ago, the fried-shrimp item was always in the
middle to the bottom range in terms of the sales mix," says
Marketing Manager Anne Richards. "Today it's near the top,
either on its own or in combination with a steak."
In 2005 seafood captured approximately 3 percent of sales
from a large menu mix that spans all day parts. During Catch
Alaska, seafood sales more than doubled, to 7.5 percent.
Country Kitchen partnered with the Alaska Seafood Marketing
Institute for the promotion, with ASMI helping to source
product and negotiate with individual suppliers. This is an
important consideration for a chain that has 121 locations in
geographically diverse markets. Until this year, promotions
have been voluntary for franchisees, but the 80 percent rate of
compliance is testimony to the degree of support offered by
headquarters, which covers every aspect of the operations as
well as marketing considerations for each program.
"We lay it all out for them, in terms of getting both the
products and [promotional] materials to them," notes Beattie.
"And we contract on all the prices to protect their
This year's Catch Alaska menu featured seven different
seafood items: sautéed wild Alaska salmon fillet (with a choice
of dill, teriyaki or hollandaise sauce); a wild Alaska salmon
"burger"; Alaskan Eggs Benedict (based on the same salmon patty
as the burger); a battered Alaska cod dinner and sandwich;
Buttermilk Biscuit Breaded Shrimp; and a combo plate with cod
and shrimp. The cod dinner led sales, followed by the combo
dinner and - surprisingly - the Benedict.
"That item was a real success for us," says Richards.
Part of the reason the item was so successful, he adds, is
that the CK customer is already used to Benedicts from other
"Getting seafood onto a breakfast menu is a challenge for
anyone," says Beattie, "and I have to admit that the
product-development people gave us a funny look when we asked
for a Benedict made with salmon. But the fact that we didn't
have to bring in an additional SKU made all the difference; we
figured, "We have the salmon patty, why not throw some
hollandaise on it?"
The patty has been an interesting product for the company.
ASMI worked with Trident Seafoods to pull the product through
Country Kitchen's network of 22 distribution houses.
"The key with any new product is getting the nationwide
distribution," notes Beattie. "You have to be able to piggyback
with other deliveries, especially in smaller markets."
Even customers who wouldn't ordinarily try a fish as
distinctively flavored as salmon have gotten onboard with the
patty - especially this year, when the menu description was
changed to position the item as a salmon burger, rather than a
salmon sandwich. (ASMI had suggested rechristening the salmon
as a burger for its second promotional run.)
"Our operators have reported seeing higher ordering on the
item, and it was the fourth-best-selling selection in the Catch
Alaska mix," says Richardson.
Because the burger can also be cooked to order on the char
grill from the frozen state, there's no worry about forecasting
or holding times for thawed product.
To fuel internal enthusiasm for the promotion, ASMI
co-sponsored a Catch Alaska contest each year; in 2006 the
grand prize was a trip to Alaska worth $5,000. Servers who meet
certain sales criteria are automatically entered to win.
"This is a big deal to be able to offer this kind of
incentive to sell, sell, sell," says Richards. "T-shirts are
fine, but a prize like this brings big news to a
Although the summer menu was finalized before all the
results from the second seafood promotion were in, and the
patty won't be on the core menu this season, the company
expects to include it in some form this fall. During each
promotion, the product-development team also tests additional
choices for the following year in a four- to six-unit test
market; in the case of Catch Alaska, the test locations were in
the upper Midwest - which has a longstanding
This year, the company will have tested a wahoo burger and a
broiled salmon fillet for possible inclusion in the 2007 menu,
as well as a salad that features a topping of julienned salmon
patty with lemon-chipotle vinaigrette.
"Testing these items during promotions gives us permission
to try different things. Otherwise, you'd never take the
calculated risk," says Beattie.
Promotions have been so valuable for Country Kitchen that,
starting this summer, they will no longer be voluntary, but
there will be only four per year, rather than five or six. The
promo menu will be printed as a special insert for the center
of the regular menu, which will allow the core menu to be
changed more frequently to respond to culinary trends. The
longer promotional cycle will also allow customers to enjoy new
favorite specials longer.
"We can change out items more quickly if they're not
working, and add them to the core menu more quickly if they
are," says Beattie.
Meanwhile, says Richards, "You'll definitely be seeing more
seafood on the Country Kitchen menu. It's a huge window of
opportunity for us."
Contributing Editor Joan M. Lang lives in Cape Elizabeth,