Burger giants weigh in with more healthful menu ideas

Burger giants weigh in with more healthful menu ideas – McDonald’s and Burger King

Amy Garber

OAK BROOK, ILL. — Looking to highlight nutritious menu alternatives, McDonald’s 600 Southern California restaurants have introduced a permanent menu called “Salads & More.”

The new eight-item menu is the latest in a string of efforts by the struggling fast-food industry to shake its burger-and-fries image. Burger King recently disclosed that it would shed its “flame-broiled” tag in favor of the more healthful-sounding “fire grilled.” And Wendy’s plans to extend its successful entree salad line with a new option this summer.

The Salads & More menu features several existing products grouped as more healthful choices along with a new, meatless McVeggie burger and a new grilled-chicken sandwich on a whole-wheat bun. Officials for the Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain said the menu is a regional initiative.

“We felt we had to take action on our own because consumers in Southern California are different from consumers in other places,” said Mary Vega Nichols, a five-unit McDonald’s operator who was involved in the menu’s development. “These are consumers that are asking for more choices. We did research and surveys.”

One of the menu’s items is a Happy Meal with a mini-Fruit’n Yogurt parfait instead of french fries.

Nichols insisted Salads & More was not developed in response to litigation filed last year, blaming the quick-service industry for consumer obesity.

“We have been working on this for a long time,” she said.

Meanwhile, other fast-food chains — including McDonald’s two largest rivals — also are trying to boost sagging sales by putting less emphasis on fried foods.

Burger King, the nation’s sec ond-largest burger chain, behind McDonald’s, is retooling its marketing strategy to focus on the advantages of grilled products.

The Miami-based chain is replacing its long-running “flame broiling” cooking slogan with “fire grilled” in a new ad campaign that debuted this month. BK’s chief executive, Brad Blum, explained that the image of fire has several benefits, including preparing food that is fresher and more healthful.

“We are dedicated to having the best burgers in the business and more healthful alternatives cooked over an open fire,” Blum said. BK plans to launch a new burger this summer followed later this year by a chicken sandwich with four grams of fat.

Restaurant analyst Coralie Tournier Witter of Goldman Sachs in New York said BK also could unveil a new grilled-fish entree. She described the chain’s emphasis on fire grilled as “a welcome strategy” after the failed discounting wars that stalled sales last year.

Echoing Witter’s optimism, BK franchisee Ken Donahue, who operates three units in Denver, described Blum’s fire-grilled strategy as “fantastic,” explaining that it “clearly differentiates us from our competitors.”

Meanwhile, Wendy’s, the No. 3 burger chain, is expanding its premium salad line this summer with a Southwest Chicken Caesar.

Restaurant analyst John Ivankoe of J.P. Morgan in New York predicted Wendy’s ultimately would fare better than its competitors.

“As salads are quickly becoming standard in the QSR industry, we believe Wendy’s differentiated operating platform and historically successful balance between quality and value will allow for continued improvement in comps once initial enthusiasm and trial for McDonald’s salads wanes and the external environment stabilizes,” Ivankoe noted.

Nonetheless, Wall Street credited McDonald’s national salad launch with driving the chain’s 1.3-percent increase in domestic same-store sales in April. Analysts said the momentum could lead to the company’s reporting positive second-quarter comparable-restaurant sales in the United States, following almost a year of declining trends.

McDonald’s Nichols said consumer demand for healthful foods is widespread, ranging from mothers of young children and college students to “construction workers who normally come in and order two Quarter Pounders for lunch. They are ordering veggie burgers, too. They don’t want these items every day, but they want the option to change their eating habits one or two days a week.”

On the regional Salads & More menu, the McVeggie burger, $2.19, includes barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles. It has eight grams of fat and 350 calories and was introduced as a limited-time offering.

The $2.89 grilled-chicken sandwich — also served with lettuce, tomato and barbecue sauce — is a permanent replacement for McDonald’s nationally offered Chicken McGrill, which is served on a white bun. The new chicken sandwich, which comes on a whole-wheat bun, has seven grams of fat and 320 calories.

Several items on the menu have been available in Southern California McDonald’s restaurants for a long time, but now they are marketed under Salads & More, which has its own nutritional brochure. Some previously existing products include a $1 chicken fajita with seven grams of fat and 190 calories as well as the Fruit ‘n Yogurt parfait, which also is available in a snack-size version as a Happy Meal option with a hamburger and low-fat milk for $2.99.

Nichols said McDonald’s regional advertising — ranging from billsboards to TV ads showing a mother-and-daughter meal outing — is targeted at women. A campaign in Spanish is aimed at the Hispanic market. Nichols did not disclose regional spending on the marketing campaign for the new menu, but she described it as “a serious effort. We probably will put half of our local advertising this year behind this.”

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