Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The novelty of choice

Could it be? After decades of nudging their menus closer and closer to one another's, burger giants have finally found it in their buns to offer an unmistakeable difference.

Or at least two of them have. As we reported online today, Wendy’s is putting more fire into a chicken sandwich already marketed as a scorcher. And as we reported yesterday, McDonald’s is putting its sizzler of a chicken sandwich back in the fridge. A franchisee might pull it out from time to time for a quick sales pop. But it's there for menu cameos, not for a starring role.

You’re no doubt as stunned as I am by the sheer coincidence of the developments. What are the odds that Wendy’s would lift the silver dome off its new 4-Alarm Spicy Chicken Sandwich less than a day after stories broke (on and elsewhere) that McDonald’s was downgrading its Spicy Premium Chicken Sandwich to a menu option?To think otherwise would mean Wendy’s exploited the situation, and that’s not often been said about the chain in recent years.

Regardless, this is a monumental development. If a fast-food fan wants spice—specifically a chipotle heat—he knows Wendy’s has a chicken item that delivers it, and that McDonald’s doesn’t.

If this keeps up, think of what could happen. Chains might carve out distinct niches again. Consumers might base their fast-food choice on something other than price or volume. Loyalty could be cultivated again. Brand personality could be revived.

Oh, my.

But before we get too light-headed here, I’m obliged to cite the other quick-service story we've covered online: Burger King also tweaked its menu. In its case, it added a line of mega-sandwiches dubbed Stackers, so called because they consist of burger patties stacked atop one another, with cheese and bacon layered in between. The objective is turning heads with heft, or exactly what Carl’s Jr. has done with its Six Dollar Burger, and Hardee’s is striving to do with its Thickburgers. And the approach is exactly what Wendy’s has used from its very beginning; its Classic Double and Triple are made by stacking burger patties into belly fillers you have to lift with two hands.

BK has shown through its advertising—even the spots for the new Stackers—that it’s willing to take the risk of doing something distinctive. But it doesn’t seem to be doing it this time with its menu.


  1. Actually, the so-called Six Dollar Burger ($3.99) was positioned as being like a hamburger you would get with all the trimmings at a full-service, casual restaurant, not as a gut-bomb heftburger. The new BK Stacker is more like Jack in the Box's old Ultimate Cheeseburger, all meat and cheese.

  2. Yes, it was positioned as a premium burger initially. But consider this promotional quote taken directly from Carl’s Jr.’s website: “There’s only one thing that can slay the hunger of a young guy on the move: The Six Dollar Burger line at Carl’s Jr.”

    The website’s nutrition-analysis tool also indicates that the basic Six Dollar Burger packs 960 calories; the Six Dollar Bacon Cheeseburger, 1010; and the Double Six Burger, with two patties, 1,420.

  3. Hardee's thickburger is a good product when you can get. Unfortunately, here in St. Louis, MO (Hardee's home now) service is so slow through the drive-through that about 1/3rd of the time I drive out of the line. And I see a lot of others who do too, especially in the morning.
    A product without some degree of service standards is not much help.

  4. I know that these are some pretty big fast food chains that are being thrown around here, But for Dairy Queen Brazier stores there on the fast track with 1/2 LB Grillburgers which are way better tasting then McDonalds and BK. DQ knows what they are up against and with the new grill and chill dq concept there out to step on these chains. They positioned this burger for quality and nothing else. The bad thing slow service times.