Burger King branches out with healthful fresh-cut option

When Burger King’s “idea” team began working on new, healthful products to market to children, they had only one word to guide them: Fun. That innovative approach to fast food menu development has led to the creation of an innovative – and healthful – fresh-cut item.

“We are always looking for fun foods,” said John Schaufelberger, senior vice president of global product marketing for Burger King.

Healthful Fresh-Cuts

Burger King has developed a new product that will be marketed to kids, called Apple Fries. The Apple Fries are red apples peeled and cut julienne-style to look like french fries. The company will take that one step further and package them in a fry container, called a Fry Pod.

“Kids will think they’re mimicking adult behavior and enjoy it, and moms will feel good that their kids are eating a healthy product. It’s a win-win situation,” said Keva Silversmith, Burger King spokesperson.

The Apple Fries have been tested with both kids and moms in focus groups, and the results have been positive.

“They loved it,” Silversmith said.

The public has loved the idea, too. When the announcement was made in September, nearly every media outlet picked up the story. With so much good press, it’s not likely the project will be killed, even though there are still many technical issues to work out.

The product is still in development, and many questions need to be answered because the Apple Fries will require special machinery and packaging. Schaufelberger said Burger King was working with suppliers on the West Coast to work out some of the technical aspects of the fresh-cut Apple Fries.
When the company presented the idea to suppliers, their first reaction was, “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” Schaufelberger said.

“It’s interesting because it’s not been done before,” he said.

Burger King hasn’t settled on the variety or varieties of apple – other than to say it will be red. There’s also the question of packaging, because the sliced apples will have to be refrigerated but able to be presented as single servings on demand. To prevent browning, Silversmith said the apple slices would be washed in a citric acid and calcium solution, which is commonly used in fresh-cut apples.

“We’re still working on the thickness and length,” Schaufelberger said. “It has to look like a french fry, but has to be sturdy enough to be dipped, scooped, picked up and put down.”

He said the company was looking at including a side of reduced-fat caramel dipping sauce with the Apple Fries, a combination that recently has been successful at the retail supermarket level.

The Apple Fries were one of about 20 products Burger King tested in focus groups as part of a robust product excellence program, but Schaufelberger said the fresh-cut apples resonated the most with kids and moms. That’s part of what makes the Apple Fries unique. Although they’re marketed to kids, they have the potential to be popular with adult customers, too.

“Having shown it around to franchisees and analysts,” he said, “I don’t believe this will be a kids-only item.”

Healthful Goals

The Apple Fries are part of Burger King’s goal of offering healthy meal options for children. In September, the second-largest fast food chain in the United States signed the Council of Better Business Bureau’s (CBBB) Children’s Food and Beverage Marketing Initiative.

“We’re all about ‘have it your way,’” Schaufelberger said. “We thought it was important to transcend that to kids meals.”

The CBBB pledge restricts Burger King from marketing less healthful items to children under the age of 12, but provides more opportunities to develop healthful products the company can feel good about selling to children.

“This is something we’ve wanted to do for a while,” Silversmith said.

By December 2008, Burger King advertisements to children will be for products that have no more than 560 calories per meal, less than 30 percent of calories from fat, less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, no trans fats and no more than 10 percent of calories from added sugars.

“Our pledge and the commitment we’ve made to take positive steps to provide new and innovative food and beverage products that will provide more nutritionally balanced options for kids will ensure that our menu remains relevant to all our customers,” said John Chidsey, chief executive officer for Burger King. “We not only want to better inform parents and kids about these new menu options, but also to demonstrate through product innovation that better-for-you foods can be fun and taste good.”

Some of the other products Burger King is rolling out as part of the new healthful initiative include Flame Broiled Chicken Tenders, Motts Organic Unsweetened Apple Sauce and 1 percent low-fat milk.

Having healthful side dishes is important, but the Burger King team wanted to develop the entire range of menu items, which meant coming up with meal items, sides and drinks.

“As far as I know, we’re the only ones working on center-of-the-plate, better-for-you options,” Schaufelberger said.

“We believe that nutrition, quality, value and taste are all important attributes that can help our customers make healthier choices,” Chidsey said. “We are committed to utilizing our product innovation to develop new menu options that help promote a balanced diet.”

The CBBB initiative also affects where children will be marketed to and through what media. According to the company, licensed characters will only be used to market Kids Meals that meet nutritional guidelines, advertising won’t be conducted in elementary schools or in media aimed at children under the age of 12, the company will use its Web site to promote healthful products and all advertising will promote a healthy lifestyle and diet.

Children can pull the purse strings, as well. If a company can get kids excited about eating a healthful product, parents will be more willing to spend the money on something that makes them feel good and promotes a healthier diet.


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