Investors and hungry customers read restaurant menus very differently. Where the lunch crowd wants flavor and freshness, investors crave popularity, profitability, and brand-building, especially after 2013, when the fast-food sector overall took a beating. But Jack in the Box (NASDAQ:JACK) turned in a strong performance, with earnings from continuing operations of $82.6 million for FY 2013, up from $68.1 million in FY 2012. The company's menu mix of longtime best-sellers and creative new offerings played a part in Jack's good year, so we asked the company's IR department to share their top five menu items -- from an investor's perspective.
Surprised? Jack in the Box doesn't position itself as a Mexican food outlet, but tacos are the chain's best seller.
"Our iconic tacos have been a mainstay on our menu and brand differentiator for 60 years," corporate communications vice president Brian Luscomb told the Fool. Jack in the Box added tacos to its lineup way back in the 1950s, when the company was just getting started in Southern California, and they've been hot ever since. These days, the company serves more than 400 million tacos annually — about 775 per minute. That's some steady demand.
2. The Jumbo Jack
Classic dude food, the signature burger is a single-patty sesame-seed bun sandwich garnished with Jack in the Box's mayo-onion sauce. Luscomb described it as "a popular choice of young men, who tend to be frequent fast-food customers."
3. The Waffle Breakfast Sandwich
A twist on the traditional breakfast sandwich, it's "a great example of how we leverage our many brand equities to grow the important breakfast daypart."
Besides bringing in hungry early-morning commuters, the Waffle Breakfast Sandwich, like most of Jack in the Box's menu items, is available all day to appeal to the brunch and late-night crowds. Most of the chain's 2,200-plus locations are open 24 hours so customers can have breakfast at 3 in the afternoon or satisfy a burger craving at 3 a.m. Which leads us to:
4. The Stacked Grilled Cheese Burger
Tailored to the night-owl crowd, the grilled-cheese/cheeseburger hybrid is part of Jack in the Box's recently introduced Munchie Meal lineup that's available "for the other nine-to-fivers" between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
"Along with breakfast, late-night is another important daypart that we've been successful in growing," Luscomb said.
5. The next Jack in the Box product
"New product launches give us a fresh opportunity to talk to our guests," Luscomb said. And they give the company another opportunity to deploy Jack, the popular ping-pong ball headed spokesman, to boost brand awareness.
Recipe for growth?
Stock watchers have noticed the effects of Jack in the Box's menu innovations, along with the company's 2013 program to refranchise company-owned locations and close Qdoba locations that weren't strong performers. Now the company expects 2% to 4% annual gains over the next four years, and analysts say earnings-per-share growth of 26% is on the menu for FY 2014 with another 15% expected in FY 2015.
It looks like Jack's old favorites and creative approach to late-night and early-morning meals is paying off.