Burger King to go public — again

Heidi Moore Apr 4, 2012

Sarah Gardner: Now to a little corporate soul-searching in the world of burgers and fries. Burger King’s been struggling, and not for the first time. A year and a half ago, private equity investors bought it and took if off the stock market — also not for the first time. Their plan? Broaden the customer base beyond men in their 20s chomping down bacon-and-cheddar double stackers. Burger King’s new owners plan to take the chain public again soon. But will this latest move help the chain fry and frappe their way to a comeback?

Our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore reports.

Heidi Moore: Harry Balzer is a vice president at the NPD Group, where he tracks how Americans eat. Recently, he walked into a Burger King in Glendale, Calif. It was pretty spiffy.

Harry Balzer: Digital menu boards up there, a TV in there, people were smiling. It impressed me. It tasted better because the place looked newer.

Burger King’s owner, private equity firm 3G Capital, has spent the past 18 months plotting a Hollywood makeover for the fast food chain. Burger King’s ads now feature the swoon-worthy David Beckham and Salma Hayek. The menu has grown to include chicken strips, frappe coffees, salads and smoothies.

Balzer: Yet, I still had a double cheeseburger.

Balzer is just like the consumers he studies: he likes seeing something new, but sticks to ordering his favorites. That’s certainly true of the various private equity firms that have owned Burger King over the past decade. They like one formula: buy the company, take it off the public stock exchange, then cash out by listing it on the exchange again.

Here’s Technomic analyst Darren Tristano.

Darren Tristano: My first thought was: Would you make up your mind already? Public, private, public, private.

But is Burger King ready for prime time? Last year it was only half as it was profitable as it was in 2009. Here’s RJ Hottovy, a senior restaurant analyst for Morningstar.

RJ Hottovy: I think I would have liked to see more progress on any turnaround.

The chain has fallen to third place behind McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Hottovy’s take on Burger King’s bid to be public again?

Hottovy: It’s more of a situation where 3G is looking to make a profit off their investment than it is Burger King needing the capital.

Burger King, the company, has now been flipped more often than the flame-broiled burgers it serves.

In New York, I’m Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

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