Fast Food Honesty

Derrick recently pointed me to a new site called Rudd Sound Bites, the weblog of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. On the site, there was a brief post about Burger King, and their penchant for being unapologetic for the fat content in their food.

Subsequently BK has added a Triple Whopper and BK stackers, which layer burgers, cheese, bacon, and sauce. The Quad Stacker has 4 hamburgers, 4 slices of cheese, 8 strips of bacon, and sauce weighing in 1000 calories, 68 grams of fat, 30 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of trans fat, and 1800 mg of sodium (78% of a day’s total).

One wonders about the corporate wisdom of this strategy. BK might do well initially, but I believe is a sitting duck in the long-term. The company is probably more vulnerable to lawsuits and will lose ground with consumers (particularly the next generation – today’s children) who are becoming more nutrition conscious. These are exactly the traps several of the big investment banks have warned companies against in reports on the obesity problem. Looks like BK might be positioning itself to go down in flames.

Dr. Kelly Brownell is the author of the post, and I’m not sure I completely agree with his assessment of the situation. It’s my belief that by trumpeting the unhealthiness of their food by Burger King (and Hardee’s for that matter, where meat is a condiment) inoculates these companies from lawsuits. It’s not as if these restaurants are promoting these foods as healthy, when in fact they seem to be getting a fair amount of press on how unhealthy these products actually are. It’s going to be difficult to successfully sue Burger King or Hardee’s when they can provide ample evidence of these “negative” publicity articles.

Of course there’s ample room for distrust of the fast food industry. Thanks in large part to McDonald’s misguided idea that they can be all things to all people, and then Kentucky Fried Chicken’s fabricated claim that fried chicken is the “cornerstone of a healthy diet“, it’s easy to be concerned about their claims to health. But this? This is a different approach to selling their products. The press release states clearly:

“We’re satisfying the serious meat lovers by leaving off the produce and letting them decide exactly how much meat and cheese they can handle.”

That’s not subterfuge, that’s an invitation. While they are not coming out and saying that their BK Stacker is unhealthy, they certainly aren’t hiding the fact that this product is all bun, burger and cheese, and lots of it. If I go in and purchase this sandwich, how is Burger King liable?

As to the larger point of Dr. Brownell’s post, whether or not this strategy is good for the company long term (lawsuits aside), we’ll have to wait and see. My bet is that they’ll still be in a battle with Wendy’s for the number two position in the Fast Food hierarchy, and they’ll still show profits.

I, for one, am glad to see fast food restaurants being unapologetic for their products. By being clear on who they are and what they sell, it makes it easier for me to decide whether or not I visit their establishments. That I choose not to is worth noting, but only if you keep in mind that I don’t really fit into their core demographics.

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