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Turnaround report: Friendly’s cuts prices, Cosi tries big-chain moves, McDonald’s family feud

Friendly’s flycasts bargains

One of the venerable brand’s challenges is luring back customers who abandoned the childhood favorite as it declined for roughly two decades, a casualty of menu bloat, worsening service and a yesteryear image. The family restaurant chain’s remedy this summer is to tout deals. A cone of Friendly’s signature ice cream will be priced at $1.99 all summer. On the savory side, the chain has scheduled a series of premium items—two loaded burgers and a salad—that it will offer in sequence for $5 each.  The charge for the sandwiches, the Double Bleu Buffalo Burger and the Honey BBQ Burger, includes a side of fries. The salad is topped with fried chicken. Each will have a run of about six weeks.

The deals don’t stop there. The chain is also borrowing a staple of casual dining, the two-for-$20 deal, to give dinner traffic a nudge. The bargain includes two entrees  plus either an appetizer or two desserts.

Cosi tries a few stars’ draws

When you lack the promotional budgets of Panera Bread Co. and Taco Bell, you can’t make as much noise about yanking artificial ingredients from your food. But, like Panera, Cosi has cleaned up its salad dressings. And like Taco Bell, it has removed additives from products like soup. Management says the sandwich chain is ready to start crowing about its cleaner food.

Also little-noticed was the introduction of an organic baked “oven-roasted” tofu for vegetarians, an addition that worked well for Chipotle, and the rollout of a premium coffee, a glaring lack for a chain that, like Starbucks, wanted customers to view it as a lifestyle brand where patrons could hang out on their laptops for awhile.

Still, Cosi has a way to go. Losses deepened in the first quarter to $4.3 million on revenues of $17.9 million, a 2.5 percent decrease from the year-earlier period.

McDonald’s family fight

Finally! After talking for months about processes, systems and structures, the limping giant revealed last week that it also has a few initiatives underway to address the taste of its food. CEO Steve Easterbrook revealed at a financial conference that the chain is toasting the buns for its burgers a little longer, presumably to give them more crunch. It has also changed the processes for cooking burgers, aiming to sear the patties and seal in the juices.

The news wasn’t taken as an olive branch by franchisees, who are at odds with the franchisor over recent capital requirements, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. The story indicated that some operators are feeling the burden of debt that was assumed to pay for recent store upgrades and equipment enhancements, and soft sales are not easing the repayment process. There is fear, the article stated, that McDonald’s turnaround effort might require more capital expenditures.

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