Friday, June 30, 2006

Chicago alderman seeks to ban trans fat

A Chicago alderman, Edward Burke, has proposed a new city ordinance that would ban the use of trans fat in all restaurants. If this rule were enacted it would mean the end of McDonald's french fries, and scores of other fast food made with trans fat, in the city of Chicago.

"Chicago has the opportunity to take a bold step and protect its citizens from the ravages of unhealthy trans fats by banning their use in restaurants," said Burke.

Colleen McShane, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said some of the city's mom-and-pop restaurants could have difficulty complying with an ordinance requiring they use more expensive oil.

"I don't think the government needs to come in and regulate this," she said. "When the consumer is educated, the consumer will demand it, and the restaurants will respond."

Public outcry over trans fat has reached a fever pitch since special-interest-activist-lawyer-group CSPI decided to sue KFC over its use of trans fat.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Hardee's CEO ignores 'health craze'

Andrew Puzder, President and CEO of CKE (parent of Hardee's and Carl's Jr.), isn't being swayed by any health craze or obesity lawsuit. At CKE's investor meeting this week Puzder said, "The way people like to think they eat, and the way they actually eat, is usually very different."

I couldn't agree more. And I've said this before, too: the fast food industry is being divided into two camps, those who are trying to make a show of offering healthy food options and promoting fitness and those that are just giving people what they want: high-calorie, high-fat fast food. It comes down to a personal decision... what do YOU want to put in YOUR mouth. Nobody is forcing you to eat Hardee's Monster Thickburger.

CKE, like Wendy's, has found that the healthy options just aren't selling. Concerning the salads and low-carb burgers offered by Carl's Jr., Pudzer said, "we sell very few of them."

Now when it comes to marketing to kids it gets more complicated. McDonald's has marketed to young children for years and they might have a reason to be afraid of obesity lawsuits. So there heath and fitness promotions might make some sense in fending off the lawyers. But Pudzer responded to a question about his concerns about obesity lawsuits this way: "As a former trial attorney myself--no, I'm not worried."

Pudzer also opined, "I think the health craze is happening mostly among journalists."

As a perfect example of CKE's disdain for the 'health craze,' Hardee's last week unveiled their "meat as a condiment" burger, the Philly Cheesesteak Monster Thickburger.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Boston Market's image upgrade

Fast Casual magazine has an interesting article about the transformation going on at Boston Market.

Boston Market was off to a fast start in 1993, but some bad decisions put there existence in jeopardy until McDonald's stepped and saved the day by buying the company in 2000 for $173 million.

Boston Market is changing image more than food, they've updated their uniforms and tableware. “Part of our brand re-launch is a change of packaging,” said Trey Hall, Boston Market’s chief brand officer. “We thought there was a bit of a disconnect between the quality of our food and what it was served on.”

Boston Market's new marketing message is: “Boston Market saves customers an hour by providing chef-inspired meals.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Jack's new Acapulco Chicken Salad

Jack in the Box today announced their new Acapulco Chicken Salad. It has romaine and spring mix lettuce topped with grilled chicken, shredded pepper jack cheese, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices and red onions served with a side of blue corn tortilla strips and a cilantro-lime dressing. The salad also comes with a couple of lime wedges.

“Ethnic cuisines, particularly Latin flavors, are becoming more popular with American consumers,” said Teka O’Rourke, director of menu marketing and promotions for Jack in the Box. “With hints of lime and cilantro, our new Acapulco Chicken Salad offers a unique, sophisticated taste that’s rare in the quick-serve industry.”

The salad is priced at $4.89.

Sorry to have 2 entries about new menu items from Jack in the Box in the same week, but I was a little late with the fruit cup annoucnement below and then today they annouce this new salad... so it goes.


Fast food drink options to grow

Have you noticed the rapidly growing number of soft drink varieties at your grocery store and c-stores? Coke Blak, Berries and Cream Dr. Pepper, Diet Pepsi Jazz Black Cherry French Vanilla... the list goes on and on (and the names get longer and longer!)

And have you also noticed that at many fast food joints the choices are still limited to the same 5 or 6 choices that they've offered for 15 years?

Well, according to a Brandweek article I read today, the lack of choice at fast feeders is already changing quickly.

McDonald's is already testing coolers filled with a variety of bottled Coke products. Wendy's and Jack now offer bottled water. And Subway led the way be adding Coke coolers at 95% of their locations late last year.

Subway says half of their cooler sales are noncarbonated beverages. Dasani is the top seller (33%) followed by Coke Classic (17%).

So not only are the selections increasing, but the format, too: individual bottles of soda.

The exception, of course, is the drink selection king, Sonic Drive-Ins. Sonic clearly offers the largest selection of fountain drinks with 168,894 possible flavor combinations. According to the article, Sonic will be promoting themselves as the "The Ultimate Drink Stop" this year.

And while the chains increase the options, the manufacturers will continue to flood the market with more flavors. From the article:
Coke has been working with the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., to create new drink recipes for casual dining restaurants using its fountain drinks. "Coca-Cola Specialty Beverage" recipes include the Coca-Cola Hot Tamale (Coke, fresh lime, black pepper, Worcestershire and hot sauces) and other unusual variations on old favorites.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Jack adds healthy summer items

Jack in the Box has added a fruit cup and bottled water to their menu this summer.

The fruit cup is a 7-ounce serving of cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple and red grapes served in a sealed cup.

“When the summer heat kicks in, consumers crave something that tastes light and refreshing,” said Teka O’Rourke, director of menu marketing and promotions for Jack in the Box.

“Our Fresh Fruit Cup is cool and crisp and makes a great side for a Breakfast Jack in the morning or a ciabatta burger at lunch or dinner.”
Jack has also begun selling Dannon bottled water.

The 'Fresh Fruit Cup' is priced at $2.29 and the Dannon bottled water is $1.29.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Hardee's using meat as a condiment

"Meat as a condiment," that's how Hardee's PR team is promoting their new Philly Cheesesteak Monster Thickburger: "Using meat, such as bacon, as a burger topping is not a new idea, but Hardee’s has taken the concept to its extreme [with the] Philly Cheesesteak Thickburger."

This meat-on-meat creation consists of 1/3-lb. beef patty piled high with thinly sliced steak, two kinds of cheese, green peppers and onions.

Amazing! Just look at all that meat. Putting bacon on a burger doesn't seem as unnatural or overwhelming, for some reason, as stacking slices of greasy meat on top of a mound of ground beef. But that's just me.

The Philly Cheesesteak Thickburger has 930 calories (570 from fat), 63 grams of fat, 24 grams of saturated fat, 135 mg of cholesterol, 1750 mg of sodium, 52 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 10 grams of sugars, and 41 grams of protein.

It sells for $3.99 by itself, or $5.79 for a small combo meal.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Char-marked fast food chicken

The June issue of Fast Company has a great article entitled "The Char Mark Conspiracy" that reveals how fast food grilled chicken breasts are really cooked.

American's, especially the health conscious ones, have gravitated towards the grilled chicken breast in recent years. Many health & diet groups extol its' virtues over beef. But the fast food grilled chicken is a little different than what we'd grill at home. Consider these examples:
  • Burger King's Tendergrill fillet contains added chicken fat and more than 30 other items.
  • McDonald's Grilled Chicken fillet has up to 20% "solution" by weight.
  • The chicken in Panera Bread's Chicken Salad Sandwich includes beef extract, for extra chicken-y goodness.
And actual grilling is expensive on a large, fast food, scale. As a result it is quite rare in the fast food industry. Most chicken is 'grilled' with jets of hot air. This convection cooking, as opposed to actual grilling over an open flame, provides the highest "yield," retaining the marinade and maximizing the weight of the final product.

Subsequently, something must be done to 'brand' the chicken so that it at least looks like it has been grilled:
To create the "appearance that the product may have been cooked on a backyard grill," the newly baked chicken fillets are often branded with "char marks," explains Jan Gaydos, director of marketing at FMC FoodTech, a manufacturer of industrial cooking equipment. The company's CM-40 II Charmarker uses red-hot branding wheels to burn grill marks onto the surface of chicken breasts as they emerge from the oven.
The photo above, from FMC's website, shows the work of the CM-40 II Charmarker.

This is reminiscent of, but not quite as scary as, the fake ribs in a McRib patty!

The chicken for 9 of the top 10 fast food restaurants is char-marked by Pilgrim's Pride. The only major fast food chain that actually grills chicken is Chik-fil-a, for their Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich.


Proposal to limit fast food in New York

In a fast-paced town like NY you expect (and indeed find) fast food virtually everywhere. Now a Gotham city councilman is proposing to cut back and put a cap on the number of fast food eateries.

Councilman Joel Rivera wants to prevent fast food joints from taking over and suggested that they may contribute to obesity rates. More than half of adult New Yorkers are overweight or obese.

As Mitchell Moss, professor of urban policy and planning at New York University, points out, "In a city like New York, where everybody is on the run, it's very hard to single out what is and isn't fast food." (AP)

And clearly New Yorkers can't think for themselves, so the city council needs to do it for them. Right?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Arby's launches new web site

Arby's has (finally) upgraded their web site. The new site reinforces Arby's "I'm thinking..." ad campaign. There's a constant stream of various characters moving across the top of the screen and when you put your mouse over them you can see what Arby's item they're 'thinking' about.

Unfortunately there is no way to turn off the annoying and repetitive sound effects on the opening page of the new site. I can't keep the site open in another window while I write this because it's just too damn annoying!

The middle section of the main page has links to standard fast food site sections: nutrition information, restaurant location finder, sweepstakes entry, and franchising information.

At the bottom you can create your own "I'm thinking" thought bubble that will float up the screen for you and any other current visitor. You input your name, state and choose from a selection of comments about an Arby's menu item of your choice. I created the one at the left.

Overall, it's a good site that's pretty easy to navigate. Just let us turn of those annoying sound effects!


Long John Silver's Fishbites

Long John Silver's has introduced new Parmesan Crusted Fish Bites, 'bites' of Alaskan white fish, surrounded by crispy breading with Parmesan. The Snack Box size, which has a 99 gram serving size, has 260 calories, 15 grams of fats (3.5g saturated fat, 6g trans fat), 40 mg cholesterol, 610 mg sodium, 17 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, no sugars and 14 grams protein.

The Parmesan Crusted Fish Bites come in a portable Snack Box for $1.99; or a Combo, which includes Fish Bites, fries, hushpuppies and a medium drink for $4.99; or the Big Bites Platter includes Fish Bites, Popcorn Shrimp, a piece of Batter-Dipped Fish, fries, slaw and hushpuppies for $6.99. A Kid's Meal with Fish Bites, fries, a hushpuppy and a Kid's Drink is just $2.99.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fast food fat worse than 'healthier' fat

Want a big fat belly? Eat lots of fast food fried in trans fats. The primary source of trans fat in Americans' diet is fast food.

Trans fats make you fatter than other foods with the same number of calories -- but that's not all. Researchers at Wake Forest University find that trans fats increase the amount of fat around the belly. They do this not just by adding new fat, but also by moving fat from other areas to the belly.

"Trans fat is worse than anticipated," Wake Forest researcher Lawrence L. Rudel, PhD, says in a news release. "Diets rich in trans fat cause a redistribution of fat tissue into the abdomen and lead to a higher body weight even when the total dietary calories are controlled."


McDonald's bid to catch KFC in China

McDonald's has partnered with China oil giant Sinopec to develop drive-thru restaurants in China and catch up with KFC's explosive growth there.

"McDonald's is aiming for 10 percent annual sales growth in China over the next five years amid stiff competition from Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC, aiming to add about 100 restaurants a year to its current stable of about 750 stores." [CNN]

UPDATE: There was a good editorial in the South China Post regarding things that should be kept in mind as the fast food industry expands in China:
"The mainland would be sensible to take note, given the popularity of fast food there. It can ill afford an explosion in modern western diseases among a huge population with problematic access to affordable health care. And studies have found that Asian immigrants to the United States are more susceptible to Type 2 diabetes, in that they develop it at lower weights than people of other races.

There is a good case for the mainland to start a revolution in healthy fast food - drive thru, cycle-thru or walk-thru."


BK to sponsor youth soccer

With complaints about McDonald's sponsorship of the World Cup still sounding, Adweek is reporting that the United States Youth Soccer Association has signed a multiyear deal making Burger King its official quick-serve restaurant partner.

BK has said it would leverage the deal through "integrated marketing communications campaign that includes national restaurant promotions and a series of Burger King and youth soccer programs."

The US Youth Soccer Assoc. has 3 million registered players between the ages of 5-19.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Fast food not ready for self-serv after all

Apparently I was wrong. Back in March I wrote about the growing self service trend in the QSR (fast food) industry, but according to an article in the Chicago Tribune the trend has withered on the vine.

Despite self-serv taking off elsewhere (the gas pump, airline check-in, even at the Post Office) and being tested by YUM! at KFC/Taco Bell and some McDonald's in Denver, it just doesn't seem to do the trick when it comes to food service. Apparently people associate dining, even in a fast food restaurant, with personal service.

McDonald's has stopped testing the concept and a spokesman for Boink Systems, which tested its machines with Taco Bell, said the largest opportunity they are seeing now for the machines are with jails and prisons!

There are still some that insist self service fast food is the future: the companies that make the self-service kiosks. They say (and I agreed), that many customers prefer to take direct control of their order.

Previous entries about fast food service technology here were about self-serv kiosk availability (Nov. 05), kiosk implementation at Taco Bell/KFC (Feb. 06), and the self service trend in the QSR industry (Mar. 06).

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Disney, McDonald's partnership ends

The 10-year long promotional partnership between Disney and McDonald's is coming to an end.

Despite denials from both sides it seems childhood obesity concerns might be at the root of the split. This seems plausible if Disney wants to distance itself from accusations that fast food is a cause of the 'epidemic' of childhood obesity.

Kid-friendly Disney can't risk be associated with a company that is being accused of making kids fat and unhealthy. And there is evidence Disney is thinking about the health of their key demographic: Disney announced last week that it has started putting collectible stickers on fresh fruit at European grocers. [BBC]

It seems word of the split has already had an interesting economic impact: evidently demand for old Disney-related Happy Meal toys from McDonald's have increased two-fold on auction site ebay.

Disney and McDonald's Happy Meal marketing alliance will end after this summer's movies Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fast food houseflies carry disease

Researchers at Kansas State University have found that houseflies in food-handling and serving facilities carry and may have the capacity to transfer antibiotic-resistant and potentially virulent bacteria, according to their study published in the June 2006 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. In the study the digestive tracts of 260 houseflies collected from five fast food restaurants were tested.

"This study showed that houseflies in food-handling and serving facilities carry antibiotic-resistant and potentially virulent enterococci that have the capacity for horizontal transfer of antibiotic resistance genes to other bacteria," say the researchers.

more at Medical News Today.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Blockbuster out, Chipotle in

It's a sign of the times. My neighborhood Blockbuster Video store closed down last month and a new Chipotle restaurant has opened in it's place.

I couldn't resist to comment on this change that is, to me, an interesting illustration of changing consumer tastes. And I guess I notice it because it reflects my own tastes, too.

The neighborhood video rental store (read Blockbuster) is quickly being replaced by the increased selection and convenience that is offered by movie rental-by-mail services (Netflix and Blockbuster, too). The typical fast food fare is also being shunned by a slightly increasing number of consumers who are concerned about diet, nutrition and quality resulting in the increase in the number of 'fast casual' restaurants like Chipotle.

Friday, June 16, 2006

New logos for Carl's and Hardee's

Carl's Jr. and Hardee's unveiled their new logos this week. The new logos "feature a script type designed to give the brand names more of a personal feel, like a signature."

In a statement, Brad Haley, executive vice president of marketing for Carl's Jr. and Hardee's said: "Consumer research confirmed that the new logos were very well received among our base of young, hungry guys. We found that fast-food customers, as well as our brand loyalists, not only really liked the new look, but they also thought it better represented the quality of our menu offerings and that it gave the impression that the overall dining experience would be better."

Maybe it's just me, but don't they kinda look like the sewn on name patches you see on mechanics' shirts?


New menu items from Del Taco

Del Taco has introduced 3 new menu items. First up is the Jalapeno Bacon and Chicken Quesadilla: grilled chicken, jalapeno bacon pieces, diced tomatoes, cilantro and grated cheddar cheese on a flour tortilla. The quesadilla is $2.69.

For smaller hands Del Taco has a new kids quesadilla as a kids meal option. "Hand-sized for kids, this new quesadilla features freshly grated cheddar cheese in a warm 6-inch flour tortilla." Del Taco’s Kid Loco meal has two kids quesadillas, an order of small fries, a small drink and a toy for $2.99.

For dessert, there's a new Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Shake priced at $2.19.

Del Taco has not published nutrition data for these new items yet.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

School to ban fast food from parents?

The Palmyra Area School District in Palmyra, PA is considering banning parents from bringing in fast food when they come to dine with their children.

It is one thing to eliminate unhealthy choices from the school menu and vending machines, like sugary soda and even fast food, but telling parents what they themselves can feed their kids? That seems a little invasive. --more details from USA Today.

Another obesity lawsuit. Target: KFC

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI, a 'watchdog group' also called America's "food police," but really just a group lawyers) filed a lawsuit Tuesday to try to stop KFC from using partially hydrogenated oil in fried chicken and other dishes. Partially hydrogenated oil is the main contributor of trans fat in fried foods.

KFC, a subsidiary Yum Brands Inc., called the lawsuit "frivolous."

The back-up objective of the suit (if they fail to force KFC to stop using the oil) is to require KFC to post signs notifying customers that their food is high in trans fat.

These lawyers have no faith in Americans' ability to make decisions for themselves. I don't think KFC should be able to hide the fact that they use partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or that some of their food is high in trans fat, but they don't hide it: it's all available to the public on KFC's website and in their restaurants (and also, on my website and in my book.)

Besides telling the restaurant what to do, the lawsuit seeks attorney's fees. CSPI is listed as one of the attorneys so that's how they get paid.

But be not mislead! Many of KFC's menu items ARE high in trans fat and most everyone agrees that too much trans fat will clog your arteries and kill you. Per KFC's own nutrition calculator: one Extra Crispy breast has 4.5 grams of trans fat and their Pot Pie contains 14 grams of trans fat. The suggested limit for trans fat is 2 grams per day.

Update: ABC News has published an interesting article on this issue with the results of their poll which indicates "most Americans have a free-will mind-set. Asked if KFC should offer more healthy options by changing its menu items, 2,652 readers voted that KFC should be left alone while 951 voted that the menu needs to be changed."

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McDonald's Bigger Big Mac

In what can certainly not be considered a healthy move, McDonald's is selling a special "Bigger Big Mac" in select European countries (including Germany and the UK) during the World Cup.

This beast is exactly what its name implies and comes as somewhat of a surprise to me. McDonald's has, at least in the US, seemed to avoid the trend of offering increasingly gigantic menu items, like BK's Ultimate Double Whopper and Hardee's Monster Thick Burger. But then again, I've suspected McDonald's attempt at a health image has been motivated by fears of obesity lawsuits, something less likely in the EU. The "Bigger Big Mac" most likely will not make it across the pond.

The "Bigger Big Mac" is exactly this much bigger than the regular Big Mac: 221 more calories (714 calories instead of 493), and 11 more grams of fat (34 grams of fat instead of 23).


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Not Biggie, but bigger at Wendy's

Wendy's is doing away with the 'Biggie' drink size and returning to the terms everybody else uses: small, medium and large.

The difference is, though, that Wendy's us increasing the size of all their drinks. What was medium is now a small, etc. So now, small is a 20 ounce drink, medium is 32 ounces and a new 42 ounce size is a called a large. I'll say! 42 ounces is 1.2 liters (or 5 1/4 cups... a third of gallon). Wendy's will still sell a 16 ounce drink on its 99 cent value menu.

But I guess giant drink sizes don't have to matter.... if you order a diet soda!

And FYI, at Wendy's you can substitute a bottle of Dasani water for a soft drink (and you can substitute items such as a side salad, chili or yogurt and granola for french fries, regardless of the combo size).

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

KFC's 'Famous Bowls'

If you haven't seen the TV ads yet, let me introduce you to KFC's new Famous Bowls... a fast food idea that's long overdue: take the customer's 'favorite' items from your fast food menu board and mix them together in a bowl so they can be eaten with a spoon (or a shovel)!

Here's KFC description: "Freshly prepared with layers of your KFC favorites - a generous serving of our creamy mashed potatoes, sweet kernel corn, bite size pieces of all-white meat crispy chicken, topped with our homestyle gravy and 3-cheese blend."

The 'Mashed Potato with Gravy Famous Bowl' has 690 calories (60 of those from fat)(corrected: 270 of those from fat), 31 grams of fat, 55mgs of cholesterol, 26 grams of carbohydrates, and 27 grams of protein. The 'Rice with Gravy' version has 770 calories (230 from fat), 25 grams of fat, 55mgs of cholesterol, 107 grams of carbs, 30 grams of protein.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Fast Food News is back

Yes, Fast Food News is back. I missed writing it and hopefully some of you missed reading it. It's a long story, but I'm back and it's back. Enjoy!

Wendy's cuts trans fat

Wendy's is being applauded for their switch to a non-hydrogenated cooking oil. The new oil, used for cooking French fries and breaded chicken items, will result in a significant reduction of trans fat.

Wendy's will begin using the new corn and soy oil in all their North American restaurants this summer.

Wendy's breaded chicken sandwiches, nuggets and strips will have zero grams of trans fat. Trans fats in French fry offerings will range from zero to 0.5 grams depending on size. Kids' Meal nuggets and fries will have zero grams of trans fat.

This is a step in the healthy direction for Wendy's who, as we reported in December, pulled their healthy fruit salad because of slow sales.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that individuals substitute mono and polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats, and consume as little trans fat as possible as part of a healthful diet.

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