- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

Burger King Corp. rolled out a “lite” combo meal yesterday, following other restaurant companies that have altered fatty foods for health-conscious consumers.

The Miami fast-food franchiser’s 8,000 restaurants in the United States began selling the Fire-Grilled Chicken Baguette line, starting with the Santa Fe chicken sandwich for the suggested price of $2.89. The combo meal, which includes a salad and Aquafina bottled water, is priced at $4.59.

“These products really reflect the love of food Americans have and how many want healthy choices in this time-starved world,” said Chief Executive Officer Brad Blum in a conference call. Mr. Blum introduced the sandwich and new marketing plan at a Manhattan, N.Y., restaurant.

The new television commercials focus on the sandwich’s 350-calorie content and its 5 grams of fat.

The Santa Fe chicken sandwiches “make you think you’ve dieted and gone to heaven,” one promo says.

Burger King will introduce a Savory Mustard and Smoky Barbecue chicken sandwich in the next six weeks, both with the same fat and calorie content as the Santa Fe.

The new line comes after leading burger giant McDonald’s Corp. announced a new Happy Meal for adults on Tuesday. The “Go Active” meal, which includes a salad, exercise booklet and a pedometer meant to encourage walking, is being test-marketed in 150 McDonald’s restaurants in Indiana.

McDonald’s has made several health moves in the past six months, including its global health advisory council and its salad line, after being sued by several New York residents for contributing to their obesity-related disease.

A federal judge in New York dismissed the latest lawsuit two weeks ago.

But Mr. Blum said Burger King is not adding the healthier line of food out of a fear of lawsuits.

“We’re not focused on that kind of attention but on what our consumers want,” Mr. Blum said.

Instead, Burger King hopes the healthier items will increase customer traffic, which dipped 22 percent in January.

“Mainly, we’re talking about taste, taste, taste and, oh yeah, low fat. But it has to be tasty for people to buy it,” he added.

But food industry analyst Matthew Difrisco doesn’t expect fast-food patrons to give up triple cheeseburgers and french fries slathered in salt.

“It’s like ordering a Big Mac and getting a Diet Coke,” said Mr. Difrisco, senior vice president of Harris Nesbitt Gerard, a New York investment firm. “People want to feel like they’re eating healthy — and that may draw in more customer traffic — but at the end of the day, the greater percentage of sales will be in the traditional foods.”

For example, McDonald’s McGriddles — with 23 grams of total fat — pushed up sales in the most recent quarter. The company will introduce a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich on Monday in several hundred of its Northeastern restaurants.

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