Friday, September 27, 2013

What's with these low-cal fries?

Earlier this week there was a story in the paper about how Burger King is introducing a (sort of) low-cal french fry, 270 calories for a small serving, compared to 340 calories for its regular fries.  But what leaped out at me was the explanation -- "because of a new batter that doesn't absorb as much oil."

Say what?  Batter?

I always thought the basic ingredients in french fries were potatoes and oil.  So what's with this batter?

Googling reveals that fast food fries often do use a batter to improve texture.   The batter used by Burger King is apparently a slurry of starch, giving BK fries a hard shell and more crunch.  By contrast, McDonald's doesn't use a batter; its fries are dipped in a sugar solution to give that golden-brown color.

I guess it's too much to expect that industrial strength fast food would rely solely on ordinary ingredients and cooking techniques.  I rarely set foot in a fast food restaurant, so I have no dog in this fight (I used to love McDonald's fries but haven't eaten them in years) but was interested to read about BK's marketing strategy for its new low-cal item.

First, instead of using the fancy new batter for all its fries, BK will sell low-cal and high-cal fries as separate menu items.  (Even though BK says people won't be able to tell the difference.)

Second, BK will charge about 30 cents more for the low-cal fries (except for kids' meals, where you can get low-cal for the same price).

Third, in the advertising, instead of comparing the new low-cal fries to its own high-cal fries, which would mean 20 percent fewer calories, BK is going to compare them to McDonald's fries, for 30 percent fewer calories.

Fourth, BK's idea of a "small" serving is pretty big -- 128 grams (4 1/2 ounces) compared to McDonald's, 71 grams (2 1/2 ounces).

My jaundiced view of this whole campaign is that BK wants to have its fries and eat them too -- get credit for offering "healthy" food but not actually do anything to encourage people to eat it.  In fact, they're building in lots of incentives to keep eating high-cal.

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