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Wendy's reenters Japan with $16 foie-gras-and-truffle burger

Wendy's is making a high-end reentry into Japan with a $16 burger festooned with foie gras and truffles
Wendy's is making a high-end reentry into Japan with a $16 burger festooned with foie gras and truffles.

The third-largest fast-food chain in the U.S. (potentially soon to supplant Burger King for the No. 2 spot) took a breather from Japan for two years but returned this week to launch a restaurant in a luxury shopping area in Tokyo.

That franchisee developed the luxurious 1,280-yen (about $16.45) sandwich -– the folks at Wendy's corporate offices said they "really don’t have anything to do with it." The goose liver confection won't show up in the U.S. anytime soon -– Wendy's said its most expensive item here is likely a salad or a triple cheeseburger, in the $5-to-$6 range.

Besides, customers in California already have their pick of foie gras sandwiches -- at least before the delicacy is outlawed in the state next year. There's one sandwich for $16 at the Torrance restaurant Buffalo Fire Department, and another -- for $26 -- at RH in West Hollywood.

Wendy's Chief Executive Emil Brolick has said the company will aim to eventually triple its number of foreign restaurants to about 1,000 eateries. Other fast-food giants, including KFC owner Yum Brands, are also looking overseas for growth opportunities.

That's because chains are better able to experiment internationally, according to Nick Setyan, a restaurant industry analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc.

Fast-food chains that are associated with a "get-in, get-out" vibe in the U.S. are considered more high-end and even elite abroad, Setyan said. In many other countries, Pizza Hut is a sit-down casual dining concept and McDonald's is an event destination, he said.

Chains can work their creative magic trying to adapt to cultural preferences among foreign customers, Setyan said. Hence McDonald's Chicken Maharaja Mac in India,  where many residents don't eat beef for religious reasons. KFC sells congee rice porridge in China. Burger King’s recent Russian ads are much more flamboyant than the ingredient-focused equivalents in the U.S.

Fast-food chains are increasingly feeling pressure domestically, especially as a slew of "better burger" fast-casual brands, such as Five Guys and Smashburger, poach customers.

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McDonald's gets a French makeover

Fast-casual restaurants gobble up market share

Russian Burger King ad with tattoos, unicorns goes viral

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: The Foie Gras Rossini from the Japan Premium series. Credit: Wendy's Japan via Bloomberg

Consumer Confidential: Risky massage, Motrin recall, burger wars

Massagepic
Here's your thunder-island Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- We all want a massage to die for ... but not literally. The Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to use the ShoulderFlex Massager because at least one person is reported to have died from strangulation while using the device. The massager is sold in retail stores, catalogs and online. It's intended to provide a deep tissue massage to the neck, shoulders and back area while lying down. But the FDA warns that hair, clothing or jewelry can become entangled in the device and cause serious injury or even death from strangulation. There have been reports of one death and one near-death due to strangulation. (ConsumerAffairs.com)

-- Another heads up: Johnson & Johnson has issued another recall of Motrin pain relievers -- the sixth in two years. This time, it's because Motrin IB pills may not dissolve and begin working as fast as they're supposed to as they approach their three-year expiration date. That could delay relief of pain. The recall covers Motrin IB coated caplets and coated tablets, in packages with either 24 pills or 30 pills. A company spokeswoman says J&J is recalling packages only from retailers, not consumers, because there's no safety concern. If you have questions, call J&J at (888) 222-6036. (Associated Press)

--Who rules Burger Land? Well, McDonald's is still top dog, but the battle for second place is heating up. Wendy’s is poised to pass Burger King in market share sometime next year, according to market analysts. It would be the first time that Wendy’s, which was founded in 1969, has reached the No. 2 spot. Burger King, which once held about 20% of the $65 billion hamburger market, fell to 13.3% last year and could soon dip below 10%. Wendy’s, meanwhile, has focused on taste, offering thicker burgers with buttered buns while reminding customers of its glory days with a remake of its 1984 "Where’s the beef?" commercials. (Financial Times)

-- David Lazarus

Photo: This is a good massage. But the FDA says you could get strangled if you use a ShoulderFlex massager. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

 

'Healthy' menus up 86%, including at airport restaurants

Restaurants
Diners these days are finding more options that are better for them at eateries, even the ones at the nation’s busiest airports.

Restaurants using the word “healthy” in menu descriptions is up 86% over the last year, according to research group Technomic.

Instances of “low fat” on menus are up 33%, while “fat free” and “non-fat” are appearing 12% more often than they were last year. Meals claiming to be “no sugar” are now 51% more popular on menus.

And although “low-calorie” shows up less often than the other descriptors, its presence on menus jumped 154% year over year.

Chains including Starbucks, Jack in the Box, McDonald’s are all trying to appeal to the health-minded set as regulators crack down on calorie counts and fatty children’s menus.

Even airports, not normally known as bastions of good-for-you cooking, are offering a wider range of healthful alternatives to greasy burgers.

At the nation’s busiest 15 airports, 83% of restaurants offer at least one low-fat, cholesterol-free meal, according to a recent report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. In 2001, just 57% of airport eateries could say the same.

Detroit’s Metropolitan Wayne County Airport was ranked the healthiest travel thoroughfare, with all of its 59 restaurants offering wholesome meals. Just 33% of those establishments made the list in 2001.

San Francisco International Airport was second-best, with healthful fare at 96% of its 68 eateries, followed by good eats at 92% of 38 dining spots at Washington's Dulles International Airport.

Los Angeles International Airport was third to last on the list, with 76% of its 55 restaurants featuring low-fat, cholesterol-free food.

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McDonald’s to focus on quality ingredients in ad campaign

Toys with McDonald's Happy Meals will cost a dime in San Francisco

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Travelers dine at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

McDonald’s to focus on quality ingredients in ad campaign

McDonald's Corp., home of the assembly-line burger, will soon roll out an ad campaign that focuses not on speed or cost but on the quality of its ingredients.

The giant fast-food chain teased a simple 15-second spot featuring farmer Frank Martinez peeling and then biting into a potato.

"They're good now," he says just before the scene cuts to a rustic image of the golden arches surrounded by plants and hills. "Just wait until they're McDonald's fries."

Martinez will join another potato grower, a lettuce farmer and a beef rancher in a series of television, print and online advertisements that are scheduled drop on Jan. 2. The spots, as well as longer-form versions, will also be featured on a dedicated website.

Under pressure from increasingly health-conscious diners, competing restaurants promoting more nourishing options and lawmakers wielding new regulations about meal content, fast-food companies are trying to prove that they too can offer natural, garden-fresh fare. 

McDonald’s dumped Sparboe Egg Farms, one of its suppliers, after viewing undercover footage showing animal abuse at the company's Midwest facilities. The chain's pork supplier, Smithfield Foods, has promised to phase out cramped crates for pregnant pigs by 2017.

Other restaurant companies such as Wendy's and Domino's have hopped on the artisan trend, which touts local, small-scale food production.

Burger King's ads are now dominated by visuals of succulent patties and crisp produce. Del Taco is making over some of its restaurants with wall murals stating "Chicken grilled here" and "Cheddar hand-grated here."

RELATED:

Domino's launches a line of artisan pizzas

Burger King freshens advertising campaign, kicks out the King

-- Tiffany Hsu

Russian Burger King ad with tattoos, unicorns goes viral

And you thought the King was weird. One of Burger King’s Russian ads -– featuring tattoo artists, burger turntables, a marriage proposal and, yes, unicorns –- has gone viral.

The fast-food chain’s recent spots in the U.S. have been pretty tame, with luscious, artistic images of glistening produce and juicy meats supplanting the creepy King mascot

Burger King, along with competitors such as McDonalds, has strongly emphasized the quality and freshness of its ingredients (thicker, less salty fries, anyone?) to try to lure increasingly health-conscious customers stateside.

Apparently, Burger King’s Russian consumer base wants something different. Like, burning-shoes-and-tutus-different, all over a thumping back beat. The ad, clocking in at a whopping 1 minute and 30 seconds or so, also features choreographed hipster dancers, a family with bejeweled grills on their teeth and mid-air knife skills.

There’s a man who uses a giant meat patty as a mask and a shamanistic healer who hides a burger under his turban. Some of the food images from the U.S. make cameos –- but they’re by far the dullest segments of the Russian ad. 

And it’s neither the first nor last gimmicky foreign fast-food publicity play. The Japanese branch of Domino’s recently said it would open the first pizza chain on the moon.

But Burger King is part of a wider effort by U.S. quick service restaurant companies -- such as KFC owner Yum Brands -- to expand abroad. Establishing new international sales bases is key to continued growth, many said, especially as finicky American customers drift to fast casual competitors such as Panera Bread Co. and Chipotle Mexican Grill. 

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Restaurant chain franchising on a slow but steady rise

Domino's Pizza plans to be first fast food joint on the moon

Burger King freshens advertising campaign, kicks out the King

-- Tiffany Hsu

Restaurant breakfasts starting to get popular, report says

Starbucks
Restaurant breakfasts -– or what many customers refer to as the meal that’s available when the lunch and dinner menus aren’t –- could end up becoming a huge sales generator for eateries, industry analysts say.

At the moment, the breakfast segment makes up 12% of total restaurant sales – or about $42 billion a year, according to research group Technomic.

But a.m. patronage is growing, especially at fast-food chains. The limited-service segment, which also includes fast casual restaurants such as Panera Bread Co., has added more than 230 new breakfast items in the past two years.

In November, Wendy’s Chief Executive Emil Brolick said the chain would begin focusing more on breakfast items such as its Artisan Egg Sandwich. Morning menus are responsible for 92% of overall traffic growth in the quick service segment over the last five years, he said.

During the weekday, nearly half of consumers say they occasionally pick up breakfast at an eatery, up from the 33% who said the same in 2009.

And such customers tend to be more immune than most to high prices: Most said convenience and speed is more important when it comes to their morning grub.

But several chains offered deals this season to entice patrons, with several days of free Chick-fil-A breakfasts in September and a morning of free biscuits from Carl’s Jr. in November.

Coffee is also key -– many diners are loyal to establishments that serve their preferred brew, Technomic said.

The next trend in breakfast will be health, as eateries work in multi-grain and non-fat ingredients, Technomic said.

“Oatmeal is booming,” according to the firm.

RELATED:

Carl's Jr. offers free biscuits Wednesday morning

Wendy's tackles Five Guys and fast casual, introduces 'W' burger

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Starbucks breakfast sandwiches at a Starbucks Corp. store in Seattle. Credit: Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Unemployment and dour diners keep restaurant traffic flat in 2011

Restaurant

Diners haven’t eaten out more this year and restaurant traffic is projected to stay flat for the rest of 2011 and the first part of next year too, according to researchers at the NPD Group.

The reason? It’s now a common refrain, but blame “the continuing economic saga of high unemployment and low consumer confidence,” Tuesday’s report says.

Many restaurants have offered bargains -- such as Red Robin’s deal today in which customers named Jim get a free Jim Beam Bacon Swiss Burger. But NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs said the incentives often weren’t as effective in luring customers as they’ve been in the past.

And diners actually found themselves spending more at restaurants because their meals were costlier this year, due in part to rising food prices. Diners shelled out 1.3% more in the third quarter of 2011 than they did a year earlier, according to NPD.

Casual dining restaurants such as Applebee’s, which represent 11% of the restaurant industry, have seen visitor numbers slip since at least 2009. Midscale family restaurants such as P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, taking up a 10% chunk of the dine-out pie, have been losing diners for the same amount of time.

Fast-food restaurants, which account for 78% of customer visits, saw a 1% bump in patrons in the first quarter, year-over-year, but then stayed flat for the next two.

Only fine dining, which suffered double-digit plunges in 2009 before recovering in mid-2010, has seen steady growth. 

Individual segments that managed to entice consumers include fast casual chains such as Panera Bread Co. and Chipotle Mexican Grill, as well as fast food giants such as McDonald’s, coffee-donut-bagel purveyors and convenience store food sellers.

In total, eateries counted 61 billion visits so far in 2011, said Riggs, who added that “next year the outlook is brighter.”

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Convenience stores poaching customers from fast-food chains

Wendy's tackles Five Guys and fast casual, introduces 'W' burger

Angelenos tip less but also spend less on meals, says Zagat survey

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

McDonald’s LivingSocial deal battles $2 Subway sandwiches

Bigmac

As if the value menu wasn’t enough, fast-food giants McDonald’s Corp. and Subway are going head-to-head with deep discounts Thursday on marquee meal items.

McDonald’s is pairing with daily deals site LivingSocial Inc. to offer vouchers for five Big Mac and five orders of French fry -- worth $26 -- for $13. LivingSocial will parcel out 1 million voucher booklets, which will be mailed rather than downloaded and printed online.

By teaming with McDonald’s and other large chains such as Whole Foods Market, LivingSocial seems to taking a cue from competing site Groupon, which has run major deals with national retailers such as Gap.

Also Thursday, Subway is selling its 6-inch Meatball Marinara and Cold Cut Combo sandwiches for $2 each. The limited offer, which runs through the end of December, is part of what the sandwich chain calls Customer Appreciation Month.

RELATED:

Convenience stores poaching customers from fast-food chains

Toys with McDonald's Happy Meals will cost a dime in San Francisco

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A McDonald's Big Mac. Credit: Keith Srakocic / Associated Press

Toys with McDonald's Happy Meals will cost a dime in San Francisco

Happymeal

San Francisco McDonald’s locations will stop giving away free toys with Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals as a new law aimed at child obesity takes effect Thursday.

Instead, the massive fast food chain plans to sell the toys separately for 10 cents with a purchase of the children’s combos in its 19 stores in the Bay Area city. The funds, the company said, would go toward a project through its Ronald McDonald House charity.

It’s McDonald’s way of reluctantly complying with a new ordinance that forbids restaurants from offering toys gratis with a kid’s meal unless the servings have less than 600 calories, a drink option that isn’t too sugary or fatty and also includes a helping of fruits and vegetables.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain began offering apple slices along with downsized servings of French fries in all its Happy Meals this summer. The company is also introducing low-fat milk, fat-free chocolate milk and apple juice.

Around the same time, San Diego-based Jack in the Box Inc. pulled toys out of its children’s meals entirely and began including apples with caramel.

After the San Francisco measure was passed last year, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban new fast food restaurants within a half-mile of similar chains in South Los Angeles, an area that suffers from high rates of obesity and diabetes.

In the spring, the New York City Council began considering a measure that would ban toys from children’s meals that fail to meet strict nutritional standards.

Some activists scoffed at McDonald’s toy-selling tactic Wednesday.

“As McDonald’s long has, it is again using a charity that helps children get well to defend a practice that contributes to a range of diet-related conditions like diabetes,” said the Corporate Accountability International group in an email.

RELATED:

McDonald's to make Happy Meals more healthful

Jack in the Box stops including toys in kids' meals

Fast-food industry is quietly defeating Happy Meal bans

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A Happy Meal at McDonald's in San Francisco last year. Credit: David Paul Morris / Getty Images

Convenience stores poaching customers from fast-food chains

Mobilemart
McDonald’s and other fast-food mega-chains may be losing customers to convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and Ampm, according to a report Tuesday.

Convenience chains including Chevron, Circle K and Wawa often offer their own equivalents of value meals, siphoning away fast-food customers looking for a quick snack, according to research group Technomic.

Ampm offers a $1.49 rib sandwich that looks an awful lot like McDonald’s cult-favorite McRib. Circle K has 44-ounce fountain drinks for 89 cents. Even more than fast-food drive-throughs, convenience chains facilitate impulse buying, which 31% of customers blamed for their purchases there.

More than a quarter of convenience store customers are converts from fast-food, according to Technomic’s report. And out of all convenience store patrons, 82% say they buy prepared foods there at least once a month. More than half snack there once a week or more.

RELATED:

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5,000 calories. $20. Meet Pizza Hut’s 'epic' Big Dinner Box

Wendy's tackles Five Guys and fast casual, introduces 'W' burger

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Mobile Mart station at Centinela Avenue and Palms Boulevard in Mar Vista. Credit: Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times

5,000 calories. $20. Meet Pizza Hut’s 'epic' Big Dinner Box

Big dinner box
Pizza Hut has an “epic” new offering –- a $20 “Big Dinner Box” stuffed with thousands of calories worth of pizzas, wings and breadsticks. You know, just in case you weren’t already planning to overeat on Thanksgiving.

The package deal launched Wednesday on what the pizza chain is calling “Red Roof Wednesday” -– when out-of-town relatives start flooding in for the holidays. The Big Dinner Box is designed as “crowd support” -– no dishes necessary. 

Included are two medium rectangular one-topping pizzas, eight wings and five breadsticks -– all customizable and, according to the Huffington Post, clocking in at more than 5,000 calories.

Pizza Hut first delivered the combo from military vehicles on Nov. 7 to hundreds of gamers waiting for a video game release at a GameStop retailer in Los Angeles.

The fast food chain is expecting to sell 275,000 of the boxes Wednesday.

The company believes that it will sell a million pizzas on top of that – weighing 2.4 million pounds, or the equivalent of 151,000 turkeys. Strung together, the 1.2 million feet of pizza would cover the length of the Mayflower more than 12,000 times, according to Pizza Hut.

Kind of makes us hanker for an 8,000-calorie Quadruple Bypass Burger from the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas. Or not.

RELATED:

McDonald's McRib pork sandwich returns

Domino's launches a line of artisan pizzas

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: PRNewsFoto / Pizza Hut

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