Sonic is putting college football logo stamps on burger buns.
America's sports-mania has come to this: college football team logos stamped onto burger buns.
On Wednesday, Sonic, the Oklahoma City-based chain of drive-in restaurants, will unveil plans to steam team logos onto burger burns - including deals with universities in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.
Like an Oklahoma Sooner logo on the Sooner Brisket Cheeseburger. Or a University of Louisiana Ragin' Cajun Bulldog Burger with logo. Both burgers are crafted with ingredients that Sonic hopes appeals to regional tastes - like Tabasco spicy mayo and pepper jack cheese on the Ragin' Cajun burger.
The move comes at a time many fast-food chains are facing softening sales and must provide extra inventive to move products. For Sonic, which mostly relies on regional sales appeal, the bun logos are a bid to solidify local appeal and raise eyebrows.
"We're a gathering spot in many smaller communities," explains James O'Reilly, chief marketing officer at Sonic, which has 3,500 locations in 44 states. "This will generate a lot of buzz."
Sonic is not the first to put an imprint on a bun. Smaller regional chains, including Umami Burger and BurgerFi have imprinted their own logos on their burger buns. But Sonic appears to be the first major chain to take it to the next step.
The stamp is made with tapioca starch and up to three USDA-approved food colorings. The logos are steamed onto the buns from wax paper just before the burgers are served. The steaming adds several seconds to the cooking process, O'Reilly says.
Also, the college football stamps add upwards of a dime to the price of each burger because Sonic pays both licensing and royalty fees to the universities, O'Reilly says.
Consumers who don't like food coloring can request the burgers without the logos - but still will pay the same price. (About $3.99 to $4.99, depending on the market.) The limited-time promo should be available for up to three months after rollout.
Last year, the chain tested the concept in Louisiana, and it was a hit. If the expanded rollout also catches on, O'Reilly says he'd consider expanding the logo stamping to pro sports, too. "Any opportunity to take a great-tasting product and tailor it to the local community makes good sense," he says.
But one sports marketing guru says, for the concept to succeed, it must do more than make folks smile.
"The novelty can only take Sonic so far," say Stephen Greyser, professor of sports marketing at Harvard University. "If Sonic wants consumers to return," he adds, "it better taste good."
Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY