Mrs. Winner's on 'zigging' while the industry 'zags'

| by S.A. Whitehead
Mrs. Winner's on 'zigging' while the industry 'zags'

Editor's note: Flash Focus is a recurring quick, single-subject Q-and-A with a QSR brand leader. To be considered for the feature, send email to

In the world of quick-service restaurants, much of the last few years' conversation has revolved around consumers' insatiable appetite for the new and healthful, along with the challenges of making those demands work in the already demanding QSR category. But to that idea of "healthing-up" a concept's core products, Mrs. Winner's Chicken & Biscuits CEO John Buttolph is not subtle about his feelings.

"We started as a Southern brand, and we're proud of our 40-year heritage as a Southern brand. So, hell, yes! We will be true to our roots as a Southern brand," he said when asked about the brand's decision to stand solidly by its reputation as a provider of super-indulgent, not-so-super healthful Southern fried chicken and biscuits. 

You might say the brand, which recently restructured, is "zigging" when the rest of the QSR world is learning to "zag." The brand seems to be taking a calculated risk in thinking that there are still quite a few diners out there who regularly hanker for things like gravy and grease, but Buttolph is clear: Mrs. Winner's is staying solidly in the fry pan, as QSRweb learned in a quick interview with him.

Q: So how do you market this idea in the current "health-centric" QSR environment? Do you have to get a little "militant" about the idea of defending the indulgence of your food? 
Militant? No. But we do intend to support our customers' right to include foods they love in the contemporary landscape of choice. At Mrs. Winner's, freedom is in our DNA and we believe folks should be free to enjoy fried chicken from time to time without being guilted by food elites. ... 

We're a legacy brand founded 40 years ago returning to the marketplace following a reorganization. Mrs. Winner's is more than a name — it's a taste experience of traditional Southern fried chicken, which never goes out of style.

Q: What kind of customer feedback do you get around this idea of indulgence in fried chicken and biscuits, and how does that affect your menu going forward? 
People today love all kinds of food, so we're in the process of adding grilled chicken and salads to our menu. But, the overwhelming majority of our customer feedback tells us to continue serving the best-tasting and biggest fried chicken in the marketplace.

Q: Okay, you slipped a little "marketing speak" in on us there, but I'd like to shift focus slightly to get an idea of how Mrs. Winner's Southern roots played into the decision to stand by your roots as a fried chicken concept? 
We started as a Southern brand, and we're proud of our 40-year heritage as a Southern brand, so hell yes! We will be true to our roots as a Southern brand. Our loyal customer base loves our product and we have respect for our base. But we are perking up our ears to listen to our wider community.

Photos: Provided

Topics: Chicken, Marketing / Branding / Promotion

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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