Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why Burger King's Healthy "Satisfries" Will Fail

Burger King announced they're going after "lapsed" customers who eschew their fat-infused French Fries by offering a new lower-fat, lower-calorie option made with a special new batter thick enough to repel cooking oil. Nice try, but it'll fail.

The new spuds are crinkle-cut, so staff won't confuse them with the sleek regular fries they still offer. Their name, "Satisfries," while  planting a positive association, is too cutesy; NPR repeatedly called them "Satisfies," missing the pun entirely.

BK's company website says they've got 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories than MacDonald's French fries, though only 20% less fat that the regular Burger King offering. A small serving of the slimmer fries is 270 calories, while the same size of their regular recipe is 340, a saving of 70 calories, but at a cost of an additional 30 cents.

I keep kosher, so I won't do a taste test to proclaim whether the less oily style trumps or slumps compared to the classic. But even if they taste the same, as claimed by the company, it won't matter. They're sure to bomb. Here's why:

If you're happy with the fries you usually get (customers of McDonald's love their greasy, thin fries; Burger King loyalists opt for thicker sticks), you might, under burden of conscience, try a healthier alternative. But not if you have to pay thirty cents more to do it.

How do I know Satisfries won't succeed? By observing the reception of mandates designed to improve school kids' diets. Michelle Obama spearheaded as part of her anti-childhood obesity program "Let's Move!" new standards for federally-subsidized school lunches. Turns out schools are dropping out from the program because kids won't eat the healthier offerings. One New York City student, Zachary Maxwell, 11, went "undercover" taking videos of each day's lunch tray, compiling them in a 20-minute class project he called "Yuck!" that has so far won six recognitions. "What would you rather eat?" he asks. "Five fresh Delicious apples, or a yummy crispy chicken sandwich?" He's quickly answered by a visual of the sandwich. "Exactly," he nods definitively.

Zach's secret films reveal day after day of day of brownish gray, tough-to-identify options (whole grain stuff tends to be monochrome) with a pile of cut fresh celery or carrots or an apple. Some school districts are finding that it's too expensive to buy all these veggies and fruits only to watch them spurned by kids who'd rather spend the afternoon hungry, or who sample the tastier components and dump the expensive stuff into the trash. By the way, our federal Department of Agriculture pays schools $2.93 for each of those trays, for kids who qualify for free lunches.

So far only 5% of participating schools have or are considering dropping out of the federal program--but it only started this year. Just wait until schools start tallying the waste and noticing dwindling desire for their fare.

Nutrition pundits love to blame "fast food" for the increase in American obesity that started in 1980 and continued until leveling off in 2000. But Burger King and its ilk serve up what people like, at a cost consumers are willing to pay. They're not nefarious, profit-greedy conspiracies who knowingly sacrifice the health of their market for extra coins, despite Michael Moss's accusations in Salt, Sugar, Fat. He told "CBS This Morning" that BK's new fries "might give people permission to overeat."

While availability matters, in our bounteously blessed nation, the real determinant of what people eat is what people themselves put in their mouths.

Are Burger King's Satisfries more an effort to quell the food-police (who, I'd guess, seldom eat in their establishments) than the result of consumer-driven demand?  Authorities brainwash the public to feel guilty about eating what they really like, basically teaching us not to listen to our bodies because erudite-types know best. Rather than swallowing the advice whole, frugal and determined customers will politely laud the new choice, and then  save money--ordering exactly what they want.

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