As if we needed more proof of the split personality gripping America’s fast-food industry, this week Burger King unveiled what one of its largest franchisees is calling a huge game-changer. Ready for it? Prepare to nosh on BK’s “healthier” French fries.
“I don’t know of anything that can rival the innovative impact this product has,” Dan Fitzpatrick, owner of more than 160 Burger King outposts, told USA Today.
It’s appropriate that we call the biggest fast-food chains in the country burger-and-fry joints, since burgers are really the only things that outsell French fries. BK, for example, serves 100 million customers a month, pumping out 56 million orders of fries. A healthier fry that people actually want to eat? That’s like coming up with a snack-attack-worthy baked potato chip.
BK’s top-level execs were out in full force this week touting the new spuds, which are crinkle cut. But those crinkles aren’t what cut the fries’ calories by 30 percent and their fat content by 40 percent (compared to McDonald’s fries)—they’re only there so employees can tell the difference between the new fries and the regular ones.
So what, exactly, gives BK’s new “Satisfries” their better-for-you edge? “French fries served in fast-food settings are coated with a thin batter that seals in flavor and moisture and enhances exterior crunch. Burger King spent the last two years working with McCain Foods, its French fry supplier, to develop a batter that was less porous and would therefore absorb less fat in the frying process,” reports The New York Times.
Kinda reminds me of Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation describing his “non-nutritive cereal varnish” that he thinks is going to land him his big holiday bonus.
So how do you explain the price premium? If the potatoes are the same and the oil is the same, then it seems cheap that Burger King is selling its new fries for 20-30 cents more than their regular fries—though they’re quick to point out you can sub Satisfries in a kids meal at no charge.
Is that less porous batter really more pricey, or is this another example of the kind of demographic discrimination that says if you want to eat healthier and eat out, you’d better be able to pay more for it?
Cynics claim that this stunt (the launch was accompanied by the installation of Godzilla-sized, eight-foot fries in various cities across the country with the hashtag #WTTF, or “What the French Fry?”) is less about BK’s commitment to healthier eating and more about trying to find some product that will catapult it back to being the #2 burger chain in the country—a position that was snagged by Wendy’s a while back.
After all, just last year Burger King tried to get in on the “oh-my-gosh-they-didn’t” buzz surrounding outrageous fast-food “innovations” by launching its bacon sundae nationwide, and before that, it floated a 1,000-calorie Smoked Bacon and Cheddar Double Angus burger in the U.K., which essentially caused the British media to ask why the chain was trying to sink the British Isles.
Predictably, BK’s hired-gun nutrition expert enthuses that the new fries are a way to give customers what they want while still taking baby steps towards better eating. “It’s not realistic to ask people to replace French fries with carrots or celery sticks,” registered dietitian Keri Gans tells USA Today. “This is like meeting people halfway.”
But Mitzi Bulan, another registered dietitian who’s not on BK’s payroll, tells the paper, “You don’t want people to fool themselves and actually increase the serving size because they think it's healthier. French fries are an easy way to get a lot of calories and a lot of fat.”