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Calavo puts regional spin on CKE

By   /   Friday, October 10th, 2008  /   Comments Off on Calavo puts regional spin on CKE

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It’s a tri-county recipe for success: avocados through Santa Paula-based Calavo, guacamole bacon burgers from Carpentaria-based CKE Restaurants, and the California Avocado Festival, also based in Carpinteria.

All three have teamed up around CKE’s latest marketing push for its guacamole bacon burger.

CKE owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s brands, among others, operating 3,000 locations in 43 states and in 13 countries. Initially the firm introduced a guacamole bacon burger as a limited offer, but by 2003 the combination became a permanent fixture in CKE’s “Six Dollar Burger” lineup.

The burger has sold well, said Brad Haley, CKE’s executive vice president of marketing. In response, the company decided to offer the guacamole-bacon combination through its double and single burger lines, in addition to the premium line.

CKE seems to have found a niche with its guacamole burgers. While competitors McDonald’s and Burger King have introduced such offerings in Mexico, the avocado-laden offerings haven’t found wide acceptance in the U.S. fast-food market.

That’s where CKE’s position as a regional chain based mostly in the West plays to its advantage, Haley said.

“The tastes and flavors of Mexico are familiar to people here. Not only are people familiar with them, but there’s a high desire for them,” Haley said. National chains “have a tough time selling guacamole in places like the Midwest and Southeast.”

To bolster its marketing push for the guacamole bacon burger, CKE connected with the California Avocado Festival, a multi-day event that attracts scores of thousands in the first weekend of October each year. The festival shares a home with CKE in Carpinteria.

“Carpinteria is a small town, so around the time we were considering the idea of promoting the guacamole bacon burger, we heard from local folks that said, ‘Hey, this is a great event and we should be a part of it,’” Haley said. “I think we would have hit on it eventually, since it was such an obvious connection.”

The festival organizers liked the idea and crowned CKE’s guacamole bacon burger the festival’s official burger. In return, CKE lent significant support to the festival – at least $15,000, according Karen Gebhart, a communications event coordinator with the Carpinteria Chamber of Commerce, which helps organize the festival.

The partnership put CKE’s guacamole bacon burger in front of plenty of avocado-minded festival-goers. “Generally, we feel we get about 80,000 visitors over the weekend,” Gebhart said.

To facilitate its push behind the guacamole bacon burger, CKE has ramped up orders form its long-time avocado vendor, which is Santa Paula-based Calavo. With more than $300 million in revenue, $41 million of which comes from guacamole, Calavo is one of the nation’s largest distributors of fresh and processed avocados, drawing fruit from the U.S. and Mexico.

As CKE promotes its guacamole bacon burger through the end of November, Calavo will supply CKE with close to 40,000 pounds processed avocados per week, said Alan Ahmer, Calavo’s vice president of processed sales and production.

“That’s a whole lot of guacamole,” Ahmer said.
In a slight twist, the avocados to make the guacamole on the official burger of the California Avocado Festival came from Mexico.

But that’s a function of volume: Mexico’s richest avocado region can produce 1.5 billion pounds of fruit, whereas California grows 350 million pounds in an average year. This year, California’s harvest is likely to be less because of recent fires and freezes.

The guacamole on CKE’s burgers originates in a Uruapan, Mexico-based facility Calavo built in 2004.

“When you get involved with a company like Carl’s Jr. that’s going to go through huge volumes, you justify it as a high-volume, low-margin contract,” Ahmer said. “Nobody’s making a ton of money off it, but nobody’s losing money.”

The tri-county connection between CKE and Calavo still proves beneficial for the region. When Ahmer makes his pitch for Calavo to growers, trying to persuade them to distribute through his company, he uses CKE’s logo.

“What I always like to do is use companies that are recognizable,” Ahmer said. “It’s most satisfying when you can do that with a company that’s headquartered in an avocado-growing area.”

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