Burger King Corp.-which hiked the burger battle significantly last week with its $30 million introduction of the Big King, a direct attack on McDonald's Corp.'s Big Mac-is starting to roll a new french fry into its U.S. restaurants that's said to stay crisper and hotter longer than BK's current product.
Advertising is being readied to break by yearend, according to a BK franchisee. James Watkins, BK senior VP-marketing for North America, wouldn't comment on the fries except to say, "stay tuned."
McDonald's, meanwhile, is believed to be working with Procter & Gamble Co. to cook up a new french fry using its olestra fat substitute, Olean.
The Olean fry, said to be code-named Project Sigma, was first mentioned in a PaineWebber report issued after an August meeting with top P&G executives.
"We've been talking to a wide variety of potential Olean customers for well over a decade and I can't comment on any of those discussions," said a P&G spokeswoman, who noted that currently P&G only has government approval to use Olean in salty snacks and crackers.
She said there are no pending applications to use it in any other food products.
"We are not testing a french fry with Olean," said a McDonald's spokeswoman. "I have never heard of Project Sigma."
Asked if they were in early discussions about a test in the future, she said, "At this point, we won't speculate about the future."
For now, it is burgers that dominate the battlefield, with the Labor Day launch of Big King. The beefy sandwich is aimed at giving customers a Whopper alternative, and a reason not to stray to the Golden Arches.
"It's a step in avoiding the veto vote," said Ron Paul, president of Technomic, a restaurant consultancy. "There's no reason to go to the other place."
Big King network TV spots were slated to break Aug. 31 and will run for five weeks.
Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, created a campaign that compares Big King to Big Mac, "only it has more beef than bread." Like the Big Mac, the Big King has two beef patties and a special sauce, but no third slice of bread.
Burger King is introducing the 660-calorie Big King nationally for 99cents and as part of a $2.99 value meal, which includes medium fries and a medium soft drink.
"It won't cost you a king's ransom," reads a print ad.
The chain has not yet decided whether to keep the 99cents national introductory price, but will keep the $2.99 value-meal price for about six months, according to officials.
The launch is part of BK's third year of tying its promotional activity to college football. Some TV-themed spots feature noted college football head coaches such as Penn State's Joe Paterno.
The only national print buy is in September Sports Illustrated, said Nancy McNally, agency exec VP-managing director of account services.
Other TV spots continue the chain's food-focused strategy that pairs product with old hit music.
Additional ads were created by UniWorld Group, New York, and Bromley, Aguilar & Associates, San Antonio.
NOT A NEW PRODUCT
The Big King isn't a new sandwich, just a new name. It was sold twice before as the Double Supreme in limited time offers.
Allan Hickok, a restaurant analyst with Piper Jaffray, said big sandwiches are what fast-food customers want right now.
"When you buy a burger, as long as you're going to buy one, it might as well be a meal," he said.
The campaign comes only a couple of weeks after BK was caught up in a national