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Burger King Takes to the Road to Promote New Menu

Burger King wants you to have it your way. It's just trying to figure out what way that is.

Burger King launches food truck.
CNBC
Burger King launches food truck.

The Miami-based fast food giant is spending $750 million to rebrand itself. It's freshening up stores, installing digital menu boards, hiring celebrities to pitch its products, and embarking on the largest menu expansion in its history.

"One of the things that we really wanted to do was give people an opportunity to sample what makes Burger King products different," said Miguel Piedra, vice president of Global Communications.

Part of the rebranding started Wednesday, as the company sent 30 food trucks to travel to 40 cities. Employees are handing out free samples of new menu items like fresh fruit smoothies and chicken strips with new dips.

The company hopes to exploit the popularity of food trucks.

Nowhere have those mobile eateries had more of an impact than in Los Angeles, where chefs create specialties like kim chi tacos and fans track truck locations online.

While Burger King's formal truck rollout starts next Monday, today a few are fanning out in what Piedra described as a pop-up guerrilla marketing campaign. The Burger King truck in LA arrived at dawn to Union Station and workers began handing out samples of mango and strawberry banana smoothies to commuters.

After a few minutes, in classic food truck fashion, security told them to leave due to lack of permission. The truck and crew then moved to Olvera Street, until security there also asked them to leave.

Burger King has spent the last year testing more than two dozen new menu items before settling on ten, including new salads, snack wraps, and frappes, Piedra said.

Sound familiar? While the offerings are new to Burger King, they are not new to consumers. McDonald's has been doing many of these items for some time.

"For us, it's really not about being first to market, it's about being best to market," said Piedra.

The rebranding comes as Burger King hopes to go public againafter its Brazilian-based owners, 3G Capital, gets SEC approval to sell off 29 percentof the company for $1.4 billion.

3G bought the firm and took it private two years ago for $3.26 billion. Since then, the company's EBITDA has improved dramatically, growing from $453 million in 2010 to an estimated $615 million this year. However, Deutsche Bank said, "the bulk of this EBITDA growth came from the company's cost savings initiative."

Analysts say the company faces a Whopper of an uphill battle. While Piedra said Burger King has 100 percent brand awareness in the U.S., it fell to No. 3 last year behind McDonald's and Wendy's , according to Technomic.

Goldman Sachs , which was part owner of BK from 2002 to 2010, said McDonald's share of "voice," or overall consumer impression, is almost twice that of Wendy's and Burger King combined, while Mickey D's revenues are a whopping five-times greater than the other two put together.

Still, the King may have reason to start dusting off his crown. Deutsche Bank said a sampling of franchisees who have participated in image remodeling, at an average cost of $250,000 per store, reported a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in sales.

"We no longer look at our competitive set as just other competitors that sell hamburgers," said Piedra. "The industry has completely changed, so we're competing with coffee houses that sell wine, sandwich shops that sell breakfast."

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.

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