BurgerFi Has Big 2020 Ambitions: New Stores and Going Public

Premium burger chain kicks off an expansion year with new ad campaign

BurgerFi's new ad campaign aims to educate consumers about its steroid- and antibiotic-free beef. - Credit by BurgerFi
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Key insight:

Even in the midst of a pandemic, premium burger chain BurgerFi has ambitious plans for 2020 as it eyes opening new locations and going public this fall.

To kick off those plans, the brand has unveiled a new ad campaign, part of a new marketing strategy that the fast-casual concept has spent about a year investing in and designing, according to Charlie Guzzetta, who was recently promoted to president from chief brand officer.

“The idea was to tweak the marketing effort and push out the differentiation of the brand,” Guzzetta said.

BurgerFi is well known in South Florida, the company’s home base and where most of its restaurants are clustered. But it aims to make a name for itself nationally as the chain now has a presence in about 40 markets, with nearly 125 locations across the U.S., he said.

The message BurgerFi landed on was to tell a story around its beef being completely free of steroids and antibiotics, resulting in its “That’s Eating Real” campaign, Guzzetta said, citing a 2018 CNN investigation of the nation’s 25 largest burger chains in which BurgerFi and Shake Shack received “A” grades.

A lot of burger chains market their beef as fresh, but that just means it’s never frozen, according to Guzzetta. In addition to being steroid- and antibiotic-free, BurgerFi’s beef comes from cattle that are fed a grass-based, vegetarian diet.

“It’s not an easy message to tell,” he said. That’s in part due to how challenging it is to convey all the ways in which the beef is sourced in a limited time. It wouldn’t be reasonable to take every customer aside and provide a full tutorial, Guzzetta said.

To assist in its marketing efforts, BurgerFi hired creative firm DCX Growth Accelerator, which has offices in Brooklyn, as its agency of record. DCX, the agency behind the 2018 viral Payless stunt store, was chosen because it has a “penchant” for tapping into cultural tension to market products, Guzzetta said.

The first ad, for example, features a baseball player demanding “Get cows off the juice,” implying that he may be on steroids himself. It’s the kind of messaging BurgerFi hopes will stand out to viewers.

“We say we’re the best kept secret, [but] we don’t want to be a secret,” Guzzetta said.

Appropriately, the ad aired last week during the New York Yankees-Washington Nationals game, as Major League Baseball became the first professional sports league to resume its season.

BurgerFi

BurgerFi’s next two ads will feature additional characters such as a hippie millionaire and an aging rock star who consumed unhealthy food for years, but are now only eating clean food, Guzzetta said.

In all, the premium burger brand has produced enough content for the next 12 months. Initially, the new ad campaign was to air in March, but the company had to delay those plans to deal with the coronavirus, which quickly became its primary effort.

BurgerFi instead focused its messaging on its off-premise and third-party delivery options such as DoorDash, Uber Eats and GrubHub. The chain also offered a family pack for the first time during the pandemic.

But now that the company has figured out its response to the Covid-19 outbreak, BurgerFi wanted to get “back on track” with the big marketing push it intended in March.

Guzzetta said the timing of the first campaign was largely the result of having more resources, with more than 100 locations since 2017. With seven years of adding franchisees, the company also has outside partners and vendors to assist with the cost of marketing.

BurgerFi launched the ad on multiple platforms, including OTT, streaming, social media, YouTube and radio, as well as cable.

The chain’s approach is also geotargeted to the areas where customers are present, from campuses to shopping destinations such as Whole Foods, and not just a certain radius around a location, Guzzetta said. BurgerFi will also advertise in all the markets where it has locations, even if it’s just one store.

“Our intention is to support all BurgerFi locations equally,” he added.

Meanwhile, the company is looking to aggressively expand its footprint and take market share.

Guzzetta said that BurgerFi aims to open another 10 locations this year, though that depends in part on Covid-19, and another 50 stores next year. Of the 50, 30 will be company-owned, while 20 will be franchised (though that number may increase, he noted).

Despite sales getting hit in March and April, in May the chain had month-over-month comparable sales growth and is now close to generating the sales it did a year ago, he said, with some locations reporting sales up over last year. The company has also remained profitable, Guzzetta said.

But the biggest news for BurgerFi will come toward the end of the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter, when the company plans to go public on the Nasdaq via a reverse merger with Opes, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).


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@RichCollings richard.collings@adweek.com Richard Collings is a retail reporter at Adweek.