With fast-food sales still sluggish in the US market, the timing could be pretty good for one of the most important new products from Burger King in years: "better-for-you" french fries.
Mired in a fight with Wendy's for the No. 2 spot in American QSR, and in an environment where only important new items seem to move the same-store-sales needle (and then sometimes only for a while), Burger King today is pursuing "lapsed users" of fries with a new variety called Satisfries that have about 20 percent fewer calories and 25 percent less fat than its regular fries—and 30 percent fewer calories and 40 percent less fat than McDonald's fries.
"It's not realistic to ask people to replace french fries with carrots or celery sticks," Keri Gans, a Burger King dietitian, told USA Today. "This is like meeting people halfway."
Another apparent sign of the pressure in the industry surfaced today as well: Neil Golden is retiring as McDonald's US CMO, in the midst of the chain's biggest struggle in years in maintaining same-store-sales momentum in the US.
Burger King has tried reformulating its french fries for better nutrition at least a couple of times over the last decade, but they didn't have much of an impact; it's also tried new varieties such as curly fries, while McDonald's famously eliminated trans fats from its fries a few years ago. The key to Satisfries, chain executives said, is that the batter is less porous so it absorbs less fat in the frying process.
Still, with 56 million servings of Burger King fries cooked up every month, and fries the second-most-ordered product in QSR outlets after soda, Satisfries are an important gambit. "Small changes create big impact," Alex Macedo, president of Burger King North America, told the newspaper. "This will grow, just like diet soda grew over time."
Burger King could use a hit. It's had a series of owners over the last several years and has trailed rivals in product innovation. New owner 3G Capital is investing time and money in giving Burger King its biggest menu overhaul in some time. It worked with potato supplier McCain to develop Satisfries.
The chain is positioning Satisfries for incremental sales, giving them a crinkly cut and typically adding 20 to 30 cents to their price compared with classic fries (except in kids' meals).
But Burger King doesn't want to tinker too much with its traditional menu, which is why traditional fries remain there (and on top of burgers).
"You live in Manhattan and might be having a kale smoothie on your way to work this morning," Burger King CMO Eric Hirschhorn said to the New York Times. "But a lot of people don't even know what kale is, and if they do, they don't want to eat it. You have to give people what they want."