Burger King introduces low-fat fries. Will 'Satisfries' sell?

Burger King has unveiled 'Satisfries,' lower-fat, crinkle-cut fries to be sold alongside its regular fries. Customers and consumer-health advocates have been clamoring for healthier fast food options in recent years, but so far such items haven't had a lot of commercial success. 

Noel Barnhurst/AP/File
Burger King's new french fries, “Satisfries” will have 20 percent less calories and cost about 30 cents more than its regular fries, according to the company. Now Satisfries will be the only fry option for kid's meals.

Can French fries be nutritious? It’s a tall order, especially for a side item that is primarily a delivery mechanism for carbohydrates, oil, and salt. But while “healthy” fries are probably outside the realm of possibility, maybe just “slightly less junky” ones aren’t. Enter Burger King and “Satisfries.”

The Miami-based hamburger chain announced Tuesday the addition of a lower-calorie, lower-fat fry option to its menus. Satisfries, according to Burger King, will have 30 percent less fat and 20 percent fewer calories than the company’s regular fries (which will remain on the menu, untouched). As with most Burger King product announcements, this one also doubles as a jab at its more successful competitor – the new fries have 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than industry leader McDonald’s fries, according to Burger King.

The only thing going up is the price – Satisfries, which come in a crinkle-cut shape, will cost 20 to 30 cents more than their high-calorie counterparts (but the cost will be the same in kids meals, where the new fries are also an option).

The launch comes as fast food menus work to incorporate healthier options into their menus at the behest of customers and consumer health advocates. But until now, that effort has mostly involved adding more conspicuously nutritious items like salads, smoothies, and yogurt parfaits alongside the usual burger and fries fare.

The Burger King announcement is different because it incorporates some measure of nutrition-consciousness into that burger-and-fries backbone of the fast food world. According to the company, the new fries are essentially the same as the regular ones, but for a slightly tweaked recipe that helps the batter of the fries block more oil absorption.

"It's not realistic to ask people to replace French fries with carrots or celery sticks," says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian hired by Burger King, told USA Today. "This is like meeting people halfway."

Since being taken over by ownership group 3G Capital in 2010, Burger King has made a number of health-minded changes to its menu, including the introduction of new salads and smoothies, as well as minor adjustments, like taking one of two slices of cheese off its burgers.

Satisfries, however, have the potential for the biggest impact. Burger King serves approximately 100 million customers per month, and 56 million of those – over 1 in 2 – order French fries. “We know our guests are hungry for options that are better for them, but don't want to compromise on taste," said Alex Macedo, president of Burger King in North America, in the company press release. "When it comes to what we eat, we know that small changes can have a big impact.”

Will they succeed? It’s too early to say, but this sort of product – a lighter version of a fast food staple – already has a bit of a track record, and it isn’t promising. In 1991, amid much fanfare,  McDonald’s introduced the McLean Deluxe, which had 10 grams of fat compared to the Big Mac’s 26. The problem? McDonald’s achieved such a low fat content by forming the beef patties with seaweed and water, and the finished product just didn’t taste as good as the other hamburgers on the menu. It was discontinued by 1996.   

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