When Patty Trevino was growing up in Brownsville, Texas, the traditional thing to do was go to college and become a teacher. But she didn’t want to settle for it. “I didn’t want to become the expected teacher from Brownsville,” she explains. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because I have a lot of friends who are teachers, but it just wasn’t my passion.”
So, Trevino approached a career counselor, who helped her identify a new passion: marketing. She switched her major from education to marketing, breaking away from the Brownsville mold. Twenty years later, Trevino is pushing boundaries and building an innovation pipeline as senior vice president of marketing for Carl’s Jr. at CKE Restaurants Holdings.
It was during her first role as senior account planner at Bromley Communications that Trevino learned about Carl’s Jr. Her first client was Burger King—she eventually spent seven years working at the corporation—and she fell in love with the quick service restaurant (QSR) industry. The fast pace and the boldness of the industry immediately drew her in. As part of her role, Trevino had to understand not only Burger King’s brand but also what other big competitors were doing in the market.
“I was obsessed with Carl’s Jr. and everything that they were doing from an innovation perspective,” she says. “I always felt they never really followed the rules. They were a brand that broke the rules, and they weren’t afraid to set their own path.”
After spending time at Burger King and detouring into the casual dining industry, Trevino wanted to get back into the QSR industry. The vice president of marketing role at Carl’s Jr. came across her desk and she took it, eager to work with the boldness and personality of the brand the now SVP of marketing had always admired.
When she joined the company in early 2018, the team was beginning to build an innovation pipeline. “We went back to what Carl’s was known for,” Trevino explains, “and it was really about pushing the innovation or the flavor boundaries of our burgers.”
At Carl’s, innovation is not just about stacking toppings on the burger. Carl’s Jr. was the first brand to introduce the turkey burger and introduced the 100 percent Angus burger. So, in 2018, Trevino and her team looked at how to push the envelope again. Enter Beyond Meat.
There had been a huge increase of flexitarians, so the Carl’s team met with Beyond. “We were putting a plan together a week after our first meeting,” Trevino says. “We decided to launch at the end of December, and we’ve seen some really great success.”
Flavor boundaries aren’t limited to the protein of choice. This time, Carl’s went the high-end route: truffles. For a limited time in spring 2019, Carl’s added the Bacon Truffle Angus Burger and Bacon Truffle Cheese Fries to its menu.
“When you think about it, people don’t necessarily consider buying truffles from fast food,” Trevino says. But the menu innovation doesn’t stop there. “Innovation is not just about identifying new flavor trends but also leaning into what you’re known for.”
A staple burger on the Carl’s Jr. menu is the Western Bacon Cheeseburger. Trevino and her team worked with the Carl’s Jr. culinary team to create a promotional platform for the burger. First, the culinary team created a seasoning for the new Western Fries, served with a side of barbecue sauce. The original Western Bacon Cheeseburger features one burger patty, maybe two. “We said, ‘why not introduce a triple,’” Trevino explains. “People love to indulge in and try big, delicious burgers.”
“Innovation is not just about identifying new flavor trends but also leaning into what you’re known for.”
Over the next few years, Trevino and her team will be pushing the boundaries even further to create innovative and indulgent items for Carl’s Jr. customers and beyond. They’ll be looking outside of the typical cheese and bacon and seeing what other protein and meat blends can find a home at Carl’s Jr. And the core menu will always be top of mind as Trevino and her team ask themselves how to extend the core flavors into breakfast or snack items.
“One critical thing to keep in mind is that when you do expand those flavors to other areas of your menu, they have to remain true to that original product. We’re not going to just create a Western Bacon Cheeseburger shake just because it sounds amazing,” Trevino says.
The number one thing to keep in mind when innovating your brand is to understand what consumers want or need from the brand today, she explains. Not the brand from ten or fifteen years ago. That’s especially important in the fast-paced QSR industry.
The second thing is to keep your brand relevant in today’s advertising. “Fifteen years ago, when I was working at the agency, the most important thing was knowing all the different TV channels that our consumers were using,” Trevino explains. “Today, our younger audience is making sure we stay relevant in our digital marketing.”
Twenty years into her career, Trevino has found a home in the industry she fell in love with after college graduation. “The expectations of what I was going to be were very limited,” she says. “When you ignore those glass ceilings, you can achieve anything.”