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Move over chicken: Boston Market introduces ribs

| Monday, April 1, 2013, 9:00 a.m.

NEW YORK — Boston Market is expanding beyond its well-known rotisserie chicken offering for a new meat: ribs.

The Golden, Colo.-based chain hopes the ribs, its biggest new food launch in six years, will help bring new customers into its restaurants. It's kicking off the launch with a tax-themed ad campaign starting Monday with the slogan, "The Big Rib-ate."

"It's a new product that will appeal to a wide audience," said CEO George Michel. "Ribs are not a product most people feel comfortable cooking at home."

Boston Market, which has 471 locations nationwide, offers food such as rotisserie chicken, turkey, brisket and vegetable sides for people to either eat in its restaurants or take out for meals at home. It also provides a catering service. It faces competitors such as Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill for the lunch crowd and casual dining chains like the Olive Garden and P.F. Chang's Chinese Bistro and grocery stores for the evening and weekend customer. Michel said the new offering, the biggest launch since it started selling sandwiches six years ago, will help it compete against rivals.

"We're the only national chain serving St. Louis-style ribs — it's a differentiating point," he said.

"St. Louis style" ribs are pork spare ribs, which are juicier and meatier than the baby back ribs casual dining chains usually serve. Boston Market will prepare the ribs by smoking them, baking them and then covering them with its own brand of barbecue sauce.

Michel said the company tested other ideas with 100,000 customers, via email surveys and taste tests, including sandwich wraps and beef, but ribs scored much higher than everything else. It was tested in eight restaurants in Buffalo, N.Y., and Virginia. They were aiming for rib sales to make up 6 percent of total sales, but ribs ended up accounting for 8 percent, Michel said. Another test in Baltimore, this time with advertising, was a similar success, with rib sales making up 12 percent of total sales.

"The tests exceeded our expectations," Michel said. "It's a great product, and it fits in well with Boston Market."

The ribs will be available beginning Monday with a marketing campaign tied into tax day. Along with ads with copy reading "The Big Rib-ate," the company will also offer a special of ribs with two sides for $10.40, the number commonly found on individual federal income tax forms. And other ads will read "We love the IRS: Incredible Rib Special."

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