Burger King is rolling out Satisfries, a crinkle-cut version of the french fry it claims contains 25% less fat and 20% fewer calories than its classic fare. Nobody’s claiming that Satisfries are actually good for you but the fact that they’re less bad may make them a hit. Or not. The history of less-junky junk food is a mixed one at best.
“Supermarkets are filled with baked Lay's potato chips, 100-calorie packs of Oreos and other less fattening versions of popular treats,” as the AP’s Candice Choi reports. “Such creations play on people's inability to give up their food vices, even as they struggle to eat better. The idea is to create something that skimps on calories, but not on taste.”
And a marketer or two will tell you that the new product graveyard is filled with products that claimed to be healthier but did not meet the exacting demands of palates accustomed to sugar, salt and fat — namely, processed products that don’t have a “bliss point” or “mouth feel,” as Michael Moss reports in Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.
But Burger King believes it has cracked the code.
“Here's the key: [Satisfries] essentially have the identical ingredients to BK's conventional fries. Same potatoes. Same oil. Same process,” observesUSA Today’s Bruce Horovitz. “The only change is a re-configuring in the amount of a few ingredients — Burger King won't say what they are — so that less oil is absorbed by the thinner batter.”
A registered dietitian under BK’s employ tells Horovitz that the company is, in effect, meeting consumers halfway. "It's not realistic to ask people to replace french fries with carrots or celery sticks," Keri Gans says.
But Horovitz talks to an independent dietitian, Mitzi Dulan, who says, "You don't want people to fool themselves and actually increase the serving size because they think it's healthier."
BK’s president of North America, Alex Macedo, made the business case for the new variety, as Bloomberg’s Minsi Chung reports: “One out of every two Burger King guests orders our classic french fries and we know our guests are hungry for options that are better for them.” Not to mention, as the AP’s Choi does, that “the suggested price for a small order of Satisfries is $1.89, compared with $1.59 for regular fries. That's a 19% markup.”
One reason the fries are crinkle cut, by the way, is evidently so that BK’s cooks don’t make a mistake when they’ve submerged both versions into a roiling, sizzling, hypnotic vat of oil. “You need to make things as simple as possible,” according to CMO Eric Hirschhorn.
Satisfries are being positioned “as having 30% fewer calories and 40% less fat than McDonald’s fries, which are “the best-selling fries in the U.S.,” the Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Nassauer reports.
But the Daily Mail’s Aaron Sharp, who signed a non-disclosure agreement and joined other members of the global media corps at a “top secret new product” event held in New York City last week, observes that “the comparison to McDonald's may prove to be confusing for some, since fast-food chains each have their own definitions of what qualifies as a small, medium or large. A small serving at McDonald's, for example, weighs considerably less than a small order at Burger King.”
A “small” order of McDonald's fries has 230 calories, to wit, while a “small” serving of Satisfries is 270 calories. BUT “a 'value' order of Satisfries at Burger King, which is closer in weight to the small size at McDonald's, has 190 calories.”
Despite all the apps, it’s sure not easy being a calorie counter these days, is it?
Time’s Alexandra Sifferlin, who gathered some good quotes on the art of marketing as well as on the science of making better-for-you-if-not-quite-healthy food, also attended the BK event on an undisclosed hotel rooftop that was “decked out with Burger King crowns (but no King) and large-than-life cutouts of fries — and plenty of ketchup.”
“I don’t claim to be a french fry connoisseur, but I couldn’t tell the difference between the Satisfries and the regular fries I remember,” Sifferlin writes. “(Oh, did I forget to mention that the taste test did not include a head-to-head comparison with the full-fat version?)”
In an indication of just how big this news is internationally, Vanity Fair’s French edition is all over a story that may clear the path for a bit of indulgence among the cinch-waisted. Its headline simply asks, in English: “Light?”
The healthiest fries in the world won't bring people back to the chain with the industry's worst operators.