McDonald's fries have always given Burger King heartburn - but watch out Ronald McDonald.
In a move destined to shake up the fast-food industry, Burger King Tuesday will unveil a simple but startling french fry innovation: french fries with 30% less fat and 20% fewer calories than BK's current fries. (And 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories than McDonald's fries.)
They've dubbed the new product Satisfries - not to replace BK's classic fries, but to be sold in addition to them. And they will be crinkle-cut, like old-fashioned fries.
The move comes at a time consumers are increasingly demanding healthier options - even in so-called junk food. The low-cal, low-fat fries will cost 20 cents to 30 cents more per serving (except in Kids Meals, where there will be no price difference). All Burger Kings in North America will begin selling them Tuesday.
But here's the key: They essentially have the identical ingredients to BK's conventional fries. Same potatoes. Same oil. Same process. The only change is a re-configuring in the amount of a few ingredients - Burger King won't say what they are - so that less oil is absorbed by the thinner batter.
It could be Burger King's biggest innovation in years. Or it could be yet another BK french fry fiasco. Consumers will decide that at the cash register.
"Small changes create a big impact," says Alex Macedo, president of Burger King North America. "This will grow, just like diet soda grew over time."
The impact could be substantive since one of two Burger King guests orders fries, he says. That's roughly 56 million orders of fries every month.
A small serving of BK's Satisfries weighs in at 270 calories and 11 grams of fat vs. 340 calories and 15 grams of fat for a small serving of its classic fries.
"It's not realistic to ask people to replace french fries with carrots or celery sticks," says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian hired by Burger King. "This is like meeting people halfway."
But another registered dietitian, who is not being paid by Burger King, says consumers may get the wrong message from lower-cal fries. "You don't want people to fool themselves and actually increase the serving size because they think it's healthier," says Mitzi Dulan, author of the upcoming book The Pinterest Diet: How to Pin Your Way Thin. "French fries are an easy way to get a lot of calories and a lot of fat."
But one of Burger King's largest franchisees says he's sold on them. "I don't know of anything that can rival the innovative impact this product has," says Dan Fitzpatrick, who owns more than 160 Burger Kings.
Despite innovations in burgers and salads at Burger King in recent years, "The one area that hasn't seen a breakthrough is french fries," says Eric Hirschhorn, chief marketing officer. That is, he says, until now.
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