Monday, March 05, 2007

This just in from overseas

Reality-show producers are missing an opportunity for a big ratings win. Instead of locking strangers in a house, finding dates for Flavah Flav or airlifting a disparate pack of people onto a remote island to see who survives, the programmers could provide a winning blend of the strange and the compelling by merely scouting the news wires on a Sunday night for restaurant-industry developments. The American market is too preoccupied with surviving its busiest time of the week to generate the sort of head-turning news that makes you wonder where the business is heading. But the news coming to light in Asia or Europe is another matter. Consider, for instance, the revelation this Sunday night of an addition to the menu boards of McDonald’s units in Thailand: the McNuggets Seaweed Shake Shake.

The big burger chains are scrambling to develop products for the U.S. market that will truly set them apart from the herd. This one would certainly do that for McDonald’s, the way a salt grass malted achieve the same end for Burger King or Wendy’s. The Shake Shake—and no, that’s not a typo—reportedly consists of the same chicken meat that McDonald’s uses for its McNuggets, though mixed with a secret flavoring agent. The chicken bites are coated and fried until crisp, then shake-shaked with what press reports said is a “seaweed seasoning.” Millions of Americans gobble nori each day in the form of maki rolls. But a seaweed-flavored McNugget may not in the picture for the domestic market, even with a really buffo ad campaign.

Less of a jump, though, is what the Thai media describes as a new concept for the Oakbrook, Ill.-based burger behemoth, called the McDonald’s Esplanade. Like the new-generation McDonald’s outlets already sprouting in the United States, the Esplanade features different zones to match the different sorts of clientele that might frequent the unit. The U.S. prototype, for instance, features an area specifically for families. Ditto, apparently, does the new Esplanade. Starbucks expatriates might be drawn to a hanging-out area with overstuffed chairs, while patrons in a hurry will find a different set-up to accommodate their time constraints.

But the Esplanade goes further than the new design being used here in the States in what it offers as services and entertainment. Thai press reports say the prototype allows patrons to reserve movie tickets for a show that evening, or even to load up some tunes at a “music station,” a feature that a few U.S. outlets tried but subsequently scrapped because of insufficient downloading.

Thai press reports stress that the format is only about a week old, but that McDonald’s officials there are already heralding it as a new direction for the brand.

And, indeed, it has passed the major test of importance, or at least a big one by U.S. standards: A competitor is already copying the approach. New reports out of London say Pizza Hut’s British operation has retrofitted a restaurant with the chain’s new look for units across the pond. A signature of the updated design: Zones, where different sorts of diners will find different accommodations.

The stories say that 80 of the 435 sit-down Pizza Huts in the United Kingdom will be outfitted with the new look this year, with the remainder to be given the facelift by 2009.

No word on any Pizza Huts trying a Seaweed Shake Shake Pizza, though.

1 comment:

  1. So does the Shake Shake come with a side of Wasabi????? Interesting idea, but I have a hard time seeing middle America catching on. C'mon do you see someone in say, Gary,IN just really wanting this? Probably not.
    What I find hilarious about McDonald's and it competitors is the fact that they are on a movement to create non-Transfat items on the menu.
    I don't eat a lot of fast food, but when I do, it is like one of those dirty little habits, like smoking. I know it is bad for me, but I like the short term satisfaction, then feel guilty the rest of the week and don't go back for like 6 months!!!!!