Low-carb bandwagon: Fast-feeders ditch buns to lure dieters

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Restaurants hoping to gain at the expense of consumers' unwanted pounds are piling on diet-friendly marketing programs and menu items.

With some estimates finding that roughly half the double-digit sales gains at burger biggies Wendy's International and McDonald's Corp. come from lower-fat entrees and side salads, others are racing to get into the act.

This week, Burger King becomes the latest to launch a bunless sandwich for consumers, and has standardized beef and chicken platters similar to the "diet platters" of yesteryear. In-store displays and some limited media will support the launch, said executives close to the marketer. West Coast chain In-n-Out Burger was first with the bunless burger and CKE Restaurants' Carl's Jr. and Hardee's quickly followed with their own lettuce-wrapped versions.

breadless world

Arby's, which this month began testing salads, is also mulling expanding its test of breadless sandwiches and bowls under the LoCarby's moniker

Carlson Cos.' TGI Friday's and Subway Restaurants also scrambled to launch menus. "It's the fastest we ever got a product to market," said Chris Carroll, VP-marketing, Subway Restaurants Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, of the chain's Atkins-endorsed wraps that launched last month. "We shot spots when we didn't know we had product."

Italian dining chains have begun pushing non-pasta offerings and some are offering bread only if customers request it. Brinker International's Macaroni Grill this week breaks a TV spot via Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas, to remind consumers that Italian food is more than just pasta.

Last week, 650 McDonald's restaurants in the New York area bowed a campaign called Real Life Choices to show customers how to order McDonald's foods to accommodate their diet.

Larry Light, global chief marketing officer for McDonald's, is content to let regional units test the trend. In the past, "we jumped on every fad because a competitor did and we lost control of our menu," he said. "Because of our scale, we need to distinguish between whether there is a core long-term change in behavior or is it a fad."

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