BK OFFERS FAT TO THE LAND

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Jay Leno joked it should come "wrapped in a last will and testament." But by thumbing its nose at the obesity debate with a breakfast sandwich packing an unapologetic 47 grams of fat, Burger King-and some other of brazen brethren-are scoring points with young men.

Those guys, fast-food's primary demographic, are looking for quick, hearty and tasty fuel, and fat and calories are the furthest thing from their minds.

With its Enormous Omelet play, Burger King is making an unabashed bid for the fast-food breakfast business, where it is outgunned four-to-one in market share by McDonald's. The Golden Arches controls 40% of the breakfast daypart, compared to Burger King's 10%, according to Sandelman & Associates. And there's a whole lot of bacon goin' on: Breakfast accounts for a hearty 10% of the $113 billion fast-food business.

Young males are "more likely than average to go to a quick service restaurant for breakfast," said Bob Sandelman, president of the restaurant consultancy. Of the top 12 reasons consumers choose a fast feeder, he said, the availability of nutritious foods ranks 10th on the list, well below taste.

Burger King's morning monstrosity, piled with two eggs, two slices of cheese, three strips of bacon and a sausage patty between a 6.5-inch bun, is enough to make arteries swoon on sight. In addition to its fat grams (17 of them saturated) and 730 calories, it has 415 milligrams of cholesterol and 1,860 milligrams of sodium. Still, that's only half the calories of Hardee's 1,420 calorie Monster Thickburger, which helped propel the CKE Restaurants' chain into a revival-and now the chain is following up with a Loaded Breakfast Burrito stuffed with eggs, diced ham, crumbled bacon, sausage, shredded cheddar cheese and salsa. Dunkin' Donuts, meanwhile, is beefing up its breakfast offering with a Steak, Egg and Cheese sandwich on a bagel.

More power to `em, said marketing experts.

"It's gotten them good publicity and ... meets the needs of the target that shuns the concerns of fat and nutrition and doesn't care. There certainly seems to be a market for it," said Mr. Sandelman.

"We're not doing this for effect, we're doing it for business," said Denny Post, Burger King's chief concept officer. "We're seeing lift in all of our breakfast offerings," she said, including the Western Omelet Croissan'wich launched the same day that has half the calories and one third the fat of the Enormous Omelet. Breakfast sales at Burger King vary by region from as low as 8% of daily sales in the Northeast to as much as 25% in the Southeast. However, the new sandwich has driven some of the most brisk breakfast sales with on-the-go hipsters along the Eastern seaboard.

"Burger King is doing the right thing by saying, `We're still the big taste brand,"' said Chris Carroll, senior VP-marketing for Subway Restaurants Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust. "This is completely consistent with the brand's 40 year history."

NEXT GENERATION

In other words, the Enormous Omelet is the next generation of the sandwich that initially set Burger King apart from its Arch rival. "There's no bones about it, enormous and Whopper are the same word," said John V. Allen, brand consultant at Highbridge Consulting. "This is the 21st century Whopper."

It also sagely positions Burger King as the anti-McDonald's. "Burger King has always struggled to define itself against McDonald's and continuously searched to find a positioning that works," said Tim Calkins, clinical associate professor-marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "Now that McDonald's is attempting to balance and have less bad food, Burger King has moved the other way and said `we're going to come out with a sandwich that's good and tasty and really bad for you and you're going to love it,"' he said.

Even the advertising, showing the stone-faced King character in bed or lurking outside a window, has that hip sensibility that sets it apart from McDonald's. The spots, from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, appeal to the "18- to 19-year-old at that `Apprentice' age that is young, hip and hungry, hungry for life, hungry for success and hungry for an enormous sandwich," said Mr. Allen. "When you look at the ads it is much more of younger, hipper, hungrier `Apprentice'-like casting."

And with the right marketing, fat may come back in fashion. "It seems so different than a couple of years ago when people were going to be sued for hidden fat and calories and such," said Mr. Allen. Now, some marketers are instead saying, "`Don't be ashamed that it is a carbo-load, loaded with grease and is filling,"' noted Mr. Allen. "These [marketers] are not stupid. They don't capriciously decide to launch a sandwich without doing their homework."

It's also no mistake that the extreme indulgence of Burger King's breakfast landed it on news shows and into the monologues of Dennis Miller, Mr. Leno and Conan O'Brien. "Burger King launching another fruit salad would not be a particularly exciting element," said Northwestern's Mr. Calkins. "Launching an item with almost 50 grams of fat, that is news."

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