02/20/2014 02:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Jack in the Box Owns Late Night

The "King of Late Night" isn't Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon Seth Meyers or Arsenio Hall. It's Jack.

Jack in the Box today announced strong sales for its first fiscal quarter, ended Jan. 19, 2014, and credited the branding of its late-night daypart for half the 1.9 percent gain in same-store store sales. Breakfast contributed the other half.

Late night "has been an equity for us over a long time. What you're seeing now is us owning it," said Chairman-CEO Lenny Comma during today's earnings call with analysts.

Late night (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) accounted for 15.3 percent of Jack in the Box sales in fiscal 2013, but only with last September's "Munchie Meals" rollout did it stop just being open late and begin to treat late night as something different, said Chairman-CEO Lenny Comma. "We were the first to establish equity in the late-night marketplace but we didn't reinforce that with consumers," he said. The new menu and marketing for the overnight hours changed that. "It was our way to say, 'You know who we are at late-night. You've always known who we are at late night. We're doubling down.' "


The "Munchie Meal" campaign worked well because "we branded the restaurant experience." With items such as the recently introduced Bacon Insider burger, the buzz is all product news. But the late-night effort "was about the entire experience and not just the product," Comma said.


The late-night Munchie Meal line is available only between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. It has its own distinctive packaging, which separates it from other dayparts and helps make it a special experience. The $6 meals include a Stacked Grilled Cheese (above), Exploding Cheesy Chicken sandwich, Loaded Nuggets and Brunch Burger, each served with two tacos, a half order of curly fries and a 20-oz. fountain drink. The late-night meals are not available all day, unlike the rest of its menu.

Comma said breakfast also drove Jack in the Box's sales during the quarter. The chain promoted several morning items including a new Turkey & Egg White Breakfast Sandwich, adoption of Southern-Style Biscuits and a "2 for $3" deal on breakfast sandwiches. It also promoted two LTO burgers: the Jalapeňo BBQ Burger and Fajita Ranch Melt. Comma said the chain intends to continuing balancing its menu mix with lower- and higher-cost items.
Jack in the Box's average check was $6.75 for the quarter, compared with $6.52 a year earlier. Menu pricing was up 2.6 percent vs. year-ago but much of that increase had been taken earlier in the fiscal year.

QSR magazine's 2013 Drive-Thru Performance Study pegged the average Jack in the Box drive-thru transaction at 234 seconds, far slower than winner Wendy's 134 seconds. Comma said a new equipment package being introduced and better training should be able to reduce Jack in the Box's time by 60 seconds.