Burger Chains Enter Their Salad Days

If you're contemplating a diet, you will be happy to hear that a few unexpected new players have joined the diet food industry. McDonald's Israel franchisee Omri Padan knows the fat content of every product sold at his restaurants; Shmuel Appel, CEO of Burger Ranch knows how many calories are in his chain's Chiken Lite; and Yuval Orgad, CEO of Burger King, can explain the difference in the number of calories in regular or diet salad dressing.

In the past year Israeli burger chains have discovered that high fat content in fast food endangers the health of sales no less than of customers. Like elsewhere in the world, new health-conscious and fat-reduced products have begun to appear on fast food chain menus. In a few cases local chains have adopted new menus even before their counterparts in other countries, as in the case of McDonald's Israel, which started using a more healthy type of oil for frying.

It's hard to say which chain launched salad meals first, but there is no doubt about who staking the claim to the health revolution. McDonald's is investing millions of shekels in advertising the health revolution at its restaurants and in the changes to the ingredients in its products.

Padan says the chain is investing NIS 3-4 million in making its products more healthy and NIS 4-5 million in advertising and information campaigns. Padan stresses that this is not a one-off investment and that over the next few years another NIS 7-10 million will be invested in the new concept.

Up-front ingredients

Padan is well-versed in the calorie content of each of McDonald's products, and for good reason - the chain has recently begun publishing the nutritional content of each of its products. "The more people increase their awareness of nutrition," says Padan, "the more they will go to places were there is transparency regarding the ingredients."

Still, Padan knows it will take a long time to change the public's perception of the burger chains and the nutritional value of their food. He admits that although McDonald's is selling more salads these days, salads are far from being its best seller.

At Burger King and Burger Ranch salads and dietetic foods have not replaced the burger either, but Orgad notes that the chains sales and market share have grown following the launching of tortillas and salads. Furthermore, the customers who buy these foods are ones who would not eat hamburgers anyway.

Orgad hinted that the company intends to expand its health food product line and that the healthier concept will be more prominent in the near future. Israel's Burger King branches will also be adopting the company's worldwide branding of its calorie-reduced product line, King De Lite.

Appel says his chain identified the health conscious trend back in 1998 and long ago began offering salads. Despite their relatively long time on the menu, salads and diet products are still marginal from a sales point of view.

"People love hamburgers," says Appel, " but we are aware of the health trend and are therefore offering a solution." Appel notes that Burger Ranch has been using cottonseed oil for several years already, as it contains no trans fatty acids, the unnatural acids that are added to other oils to extend their shelf life.

Burger Ranch may well have preceded McDonald's, but did not stress its health products in its advertising. McDonald's, on the other hand, has a much sharper and clearer message. This may also be because this chain, which operates 111 branches in Israel, is the largest and has a market share of 60 percent of the hamburger market, which is valued at some NIS 360 million annually.

Burger Ranch has about 80 branches and Burger King has 42. McDonald's launched its salad line in October and Padan says that sales this year are up 10 percent.