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Burger King Unveils New Fries

December 11, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Burger King says it has a better french fry and plans to give the deep-fried spuds away one day early in the New Year to make sure everyone who wants one gets a taste.

The nation’s second-biggest hamburger chain is making Jan. 2 ``Free FryDay″ as part of a $70 million marketing push behind its launch of the french fries that it says are tastier than those from McDonald’s.

McDonald’s, the industry leader, has been monitoring Burger King’s rollout of the new fries, says its research shows its fries are still preferred.

It is Burger King’s costliest new product introduction, double the $35 million it put behind this year’s introduction of the Big King sandwich _ a Big Mac challenger.

The new fries have been in Burger Kings on the West coast since late summer and nationwide for about three weeks.

But the advertising push featuring an icon from childhood, Mr. Potato Head, will start later this week. In one commercial, the spokespud preens as Isaac Hayes sings a new version of the classic ``Shaft″ theme.

Burger King and the franchisees who own most of its 7,400 U.S. restaurants will give away small orders of the new french fries on ``Free FryDay″ to anyone who asks.

The Miami-based company believes the giveaway may be the biggest one-day sampling effort ever in the fast-food industry. Spokesman Michael Rosen said it is expected 9 million to 13 million orders will be given away. At 99 cents per order, the retail value could range up to nearly $13 million.

He said a recent test of the giveaway in Norwich, Conn., went smoothly and the company doesn’t expect any problems handling demand nationally.

Steven Rockwell, who follows the fast-food business for BT Alex. Brown, said the selection of the day after New Year’s Day means traffic should be light anyway, and the promotion could boost business.

``More than likely, someone who stops by will buy something else too,″ he said.

Burger King has long felt french fries were its weak link in the perennial assault on McDonald’s commanding lead in fast-food. Its hamburger has traditionally gotten top reviews. Both chains offer Coca-Cola drinks.

Paul Clayton, president of Burger King North America, said the chain began examining ways to improve its fries four years ago.

The new fries are made with a process in which fresh-cut potatoes are sprayed with a potato-based coating before they are frozen and shipped to Burger King restaurants where they are cooked, as before, in vegetable oil.

The result, Burger King told reporters at a news conference here that was designed to resemble a political pep rally, are french fries that are tastier, crispier and stay hot longer.

``Now we can honestly say that Burger King is the best place for burgers and fries,″ said Jim Watkins, Burger King North America’s top marketing officer.

While the company said there will be little change in the nutritional content of the fries, the number of calories in a typical medium-size package will rise 8.1 percent to 400 calories while the level of saturated fat rises to eight grams from five.

The new process will boost costs but Burger King and its franchisees are expected to hold the line on prices of its french fries, Watkins said.

He said they hope the new fries will draw in more customers and business to compensate.

Burger King bases said its taste superiority claim on an independent test it commissioned in which 545 consumers in 18 markets were asked to taste two batches of french fries from unidentified sources and say which ones tasted better. One batch was from McDonald’s and the other from Burger King.

It said 57 percent of the respondents picked Burger King fries, 37 percent picked McDonald’s and the rest expressed no preference.

Bridget Coffing, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s in Oak Brook, Ill., said she had doubts about those results and that McDonald’s taste tests show its french fries are preferred by a wide margin over the new Burger King fries.

On the streets of New York, where Burger King gave away free samples of the new fries, people said they liked the new taste.

``They are thicker and meatier than McDonald’s,″ said Valerio Fletcher, 32, a salesman who stopped by on his rounds. Anna Kisch, a New Yorker shopping with her husband, said they were ``so delicious you can eat them without ketchup.″

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