TIME Fast Food

Fast Food CEO Says Not All Models Know How to Eat Burgers

Carls Jr Hardees Hot Dog Chip Burger
Jason Hatchcock—AP This undated product image provided by CKE Restaurants shows Carl's Jr. and Hardee's new "Most American Thickburger."

"We don't want somebody that's going to go out there and say, 'Well, I don't eat burgers'"

(NEW YORK)—Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s ads starring nearly naked women have become a part of American culture, according to Andy Puzder, CEO of the chains’ parent company.

“People watch for the ads, and want to know when the next one’s coming out,” he says.

Some of the women were relatively unknown before they appeared in the ads. Others, such as Heidi Klum and Padma Lakshmi, were already famous. The 64-year-old chief executive says the ads “cut through the clutter” and make an impression on the younger men the burger chains court.

CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s and Hardee’s, is privately held and doesn’t disclose financial results. But it says sales were up 5 percent at established locations in the second half of its last fiscal year.

The newest ad airs Monday and stars Sports Illustrated model Samantha Hoopes eating “The Most American Thickburger,” which includes a beef patty between a split hot dog and potato chips.

Here’s what Puzder had to say in an interview, trimmed and edited for clarity.

Q: How did these ads start?

A: It started with an ad agency we used to have called Mendelsohn Zien, and a guy named Jordin Mendelsohn. He came up with the idea to use Paris Hilton in an ad and make it a very cutting edge ad, where she was washing a Bentley.

Actually, he tried to chicken out. He called and said, “I don’t think we should do this ad, I want to talk to you.” But I called him back and I said, “I want to do the Paris Hilton ad.”

This was 2005.

(Mendelsohn says he didn’t like the initial ad his team developed, but didn’t object to the final version he worked on.)

Q: How do you get women to do the commercials?

A: We have a history of picking these young women before they hit their peak. We put Kate Upton in an ad a month before she got the cover for Sports Illustrated. At the time we picked her, we just said, “This is a beautiful woman.”

We just did an ad with (model and actress) Charlotte McKinney, which kind of created Charlotte McKinney. It was her walking through a farmer’s market. You think she’s naked until the end, and you see she’s got clothes on. It’s for the all-natural burger.

Q: Do models now see Carl’s Jr. ads as a platform?

A: We did an ad last summer where (Sports Illustrated model) Hannah Ferguson was washing a big Ford pickup truck for the Texas barbecue burger. We did an event in Texas and I was talking to her. She said, “All us girls at Sports Illustrated, we all talk about who’s going to do the next Carl’s Jr. ad and how can we be the model that does the next ad?”

(A representative for Ferguson says she never made the statement.)

And Padma’s manager contacted us. You know who Padma is?

Q: Padma Lakshmi?

A: Yeah, Padma actually put in one of her cookbooks how when she was modeling as a teenager, her parents moved to Los Angeles. They couldn’t eat meat, right? But she would sneak out to a Carl’s Jr. and get a Western Bacon Cheeseburger, and then lick the barbecue sauce off her fingers when she got home, so her parents couldn’t tell.

Padma’s manager called and said, “Did you see this in the book?”

So we put her in an ad where she eats a Western Bacon Cheeseburger.

We get a lot of actresses, whose names I won’t tell you, who contact us, who we don’t end up using in the ad because they’re not right for the brand.

Q: What are some examples without saying names? Are they not the right age?

A: Some of it may be age relevant. Although, Heidi Klum is no spring chicken.

It depends on a lot of interlocking factors, and what products we’re promoting. First of all, you really need to be able to eat the burger like you’re loving it. We don’t want somebody that’s going to go out there and say, “Well, I don’t eat burgers.”

You really have to go at it. You really have to attack it.

Q: Has there been a problem with that?

A: We used Kim Kardashian in an ad. But Kim really couldn’t eat the burgers. Luckily, we had a salad we were promoting, so we used Kim in the salad ad. But if we had not been promoting a salad, we probably never would’ve done an ad with Kim, because she wasn’t good at eating the burger. She’s too tiny. She’s really little.

(A representative for Kardashian disputed the account and said a salad ad was chosen because Kardashian had a fitness DVD and wanted to eat something that fit with her brand.)

Q: Do you get a lot of complaints about the ads?

A: They’ll send out an email blast. I won’t name the organization, but there are a couple organizations that do that.

One of these groups is headed by a very nice woman who I met at the Republican Convention in 2012. And she came up and said, “Andy, I read your stuff, I read what you write, and I agree with you politically. But I want you to know I’m the head of X organization and we do these email blasts because we really don’t like your ads.”

I grabbed her hand and said, “Thank you.” And she said, “What do you mean?”

I said, “If you guys don’t do an email blast with one of our ads, I run into the head of marketing and say, ‘What’s the matter with the ad?'”

Q: Speaking of the convention, you’re outspoken politically. You write columns and were an economic adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Any fear of alienating customers?

A: It doesn’t seem to have impacted the business at all. If you were buying products or going to movies based upon the politics of the people involved, well I probably couldn’t go to half the movies I go to.

I think people give you a break. This is America. You’re allowed to have your views.

TIME Fast Food

The Surprising Reason Wendy’s Is Making a Beefless Burger

Workers In Fast Food Industry Begin Efforts To Unionize Jobs
Spencer Platt—Getty Images A Wendy's sign hangs as protesters, many of them employees at Wendy's fast-food restaurant, demonstrate outside of one of the restaurants to demand higher pay and the right to form a union on November 29, 2012 in New York City.

The beef is definitely not here

A burger without beef? The thought is surely sacrilegious to most Americans.

But Wendy’s is no longer catering to just its home country. With the opening of its first store in Gurgaon, India earlier this month, the company has had to rethink its attachment to the meat that made it famous.

According to a report in Ad Age, Wendy’s is rolling out a menu featuring “spicy aloo crunch burgers and buns sprinkled with chili, turmeric and coriander,” but no beef. That’s because in India, where Hindu is the majority religion, the cow is considered sacred.

Other fast food chains, like McDonald’s, also offer beefless menus, but Wendy’s is differentiating itself in other ways.

According to Ad Age:

Wendy’s debut outpost in Gurgaon, just southwest of New Delhi, has less of a fast food feel and more of a casual dining atmosphere, though prices remain low . . . Meals are served at the table, on proper china plates.



TIME Diet/Nutrition

Are Taco Bell and Pizza Hut Actually Getting Healthier?

'Sort of, but not really,' say experts

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut shook the fast-food world Tuesday when the chains announced they’ll be nixing artificial ingredients in their menu items by the end of 2015. Taco Bell is saying sayonara to artificial flavors, artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup and palm oil in their food. (Artificial preservatives, too, will be removed “where possible” by 2017.) Pizza Hut has an even quicker timeline, saying it’ll phase out artificial colors and preservatives by the end of July.

But will these fast-food tweaks really make a difference for your health? We asked experts what they thought about the particular ingredients being nixed to gauge whether or not these swaps will, indeed, make the food more healthy.

“I think that this general trend is a good thing,” says Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “But what the public, I think, has failed to recognize is that the single greatest power over the food supply has been food demand. If we change what we’re willing to buy, then the supply side will change what they’re selling.”

Here’s what else experts say about it.

1. Artificial flavors

The experts agree: taking out artificial ingredients is a positive move. “The kinds of things they are taking out are cosmetics—additives that make processed foods taste or stick together better,” says Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. “They are not necessary. Whether they are harmful at quantities typically consumed is debatable, but why not get rid of them?”

“It’s very much a political ploy on the part of the fast food industry to make their food look like somehow it’s real food, but it’s still not real food,” says Robert Lustig, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of Fat Chance. The problems with many processed foods, he says, are a matter of too little—fiber, micronutrients, omega-3 fatty acids—and too much—trans fats, branched-chain amino acids, salt, emulsifiers and sugar.

Selling real food is within the power of fast food establishments, Lustig says. “But they can’t sell it as long as we subsidize corn, wheat, soy and sugar”—the cheap ingredients that make up the bulk of processed food, Lustig says. Until then, he says, real food doesn’t have a fighting chance—and broccoli calories will continue to be more expensive than burger calories.

2. Artificial colors

“It’s good that they’re trying to get rid of food additives, especially artificial colors, because we never needed them,” says Lustig. While some artificial colors have been shown to cause cancer in animals, none have been proven to cause cancer in humans. Still, some experts caution against eating or drinking foods that contain them due to insufficient knowledge about their safety or worries about them triggering allergic reactions. (See this summary by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.)

Some scientists have raised concerns about the safety of some artificial colors, with a recent paper saying: “It is recommended that regulatory authorities require better and independent toxicity testing, exercise greater caution regarding continued approval of these dyes, and in the future approve only well-tested, safe dyes.”

3. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

“HFCS has earned a very bad reputation within the general community,” says Lustig. “People see it and go, ‘Oh, that’s the devil.'” But Lustig thinks sugar is the real problem, regardless of whether it comes from—and since food companies aren’t likely to drop HFCS without replacing it with something sweet, we may see sugar appear more often on ingredient lists. “What they ought to be doing is getting rid of HFCS in exchange for nothing,” Lustig says. “If it’s not changing what you’re consuming, what’s the difference?”

4. Palm oil

Fast-food companies use huge amounts of palm oil, which can contribute to vast deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and harsh land-clearing techniques.”I’m really glad to see this in the mix,” says David Katz. The announcement follows this year’s release of new dietary guidelines, which addressed sustainability for the first time. Big food companies—some of the major clients for palm oil—are the most crucial people to prioritize this, Katz says. “Once you know that sustainability matters because you can see things that are running out, you’re obligated to address it, even if you’ve never addressed it before.” (The two restaurants, by the way, aren’t the first; last year, Dunkin Donuts committed to sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil by 2016.)

5. Artificial preservatives

It’s hard to gauge improvement without knowing what’s replacing artificial preservatives, says Katz. “We have to be very careful that this isn’t just minor tweaking at the margins: maybe they’re taking out food additives but still want the shelf life to be the same, so they’ll put in more salt,” he says. “My hope is that we’ve reached the point where you can’t get away with that anymore.”

TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Is Making 2 Big Changes to Its Burgers

McDonalds Campaign
Gene J. Puskar—AP A McDonald's Big Mac sandwich at a McDonald's restaurant in Robinson Township, Pa. on Jan. 21, 2014.

The fast food chain is changing things up to boost sales

McDonald’s believes it has the solution to declining sales —and it starts with warmer buns.

The world’s largest fast-food chain is “recommitting to hotter, tastier food,” said CEO Steve Easterbrook, who launched a new strategic turnaround plan earlier this month.

To make that happen, McDonald’s will now toast its burger buns 5 seconds longer, thus making the bread 15 degrees warmer. It will also bring the heat to its burger patties. The chain will change the way it sears and grills its beef so it’s juicier, though the company didn’t elaborate on the details.

Easterbrook, who took the helm in March after the former CEO stepped down, believes that every little bit counts and sums up “to a big difference for our customers,” he said at a conference Wednesday morning, according to Buzzfeed.

READ MORE: Can McDonald’s get its mojo back?

This isn’t the first time McDonald’s has futzed with its toasting levels. In the 1990s, the chain gave up toasting its buns altogether in exchange for efficiency, but the quality decline didn’t go over so well. By 1997, McDonald’s changed its mind and required new stores to install toasting equipment at a cost of about $7,000 per location.

TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Won’t Reveal This Key Data Any Longer

Macdonald's Restaurant In London
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Cartons of McDonald's french fries sit at a restaurant in London, U.K., on Monday, Feb. 1, 2010.

The numbers were poor lately

McDonald’s has decided to put the kibosh on its monthly same-store sales data dump. The numbers have been especially disappointing in recent months as new CEO Steve Easterbrook is pushing to revive growth.

The world’s largest fast-food chain has reported 11 straight months of declining global same-store sales growth. McDonald’s last monthly update will be for this June as part of its second-quarter earnings update, Bloomberg reports.

Easterbrook took the helm in March; he announced a new wide-reaching turnaround plan earlier this month. McDonald’s is trying to lean more heavily on franchisees and reorganize its structure to be able to respond more quickly to changing customer tastes.

The move to nix monthly sales figure puts it in line with restaurant-industry peers. Yum! Brands, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Starbucks don’t currently report monthly sales updates.

READ MORE: Can McDonald’s get its mojo back?


Olive Garden’s Breadstick Scientists Have Worked Their Magic Again

Darden Restaurants Inc. Reports 3rd Quarter Earnings Results
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

"The flavor profile of the breadstick is powerful," said one Olive Garden executive.

Just when you might have thought there were no more crazy things Olive Garden could do with breadsticks, the restaurant chain is back to assure us it has at least one more dough-based creation in the tank.

The Associated Press reports Olive Garden’s next bread-in-stick-form invention will be call the “breadstick crostini.” The new offering is essentially sliced toasted bread and will be part of an appetizer, to be added to the menu in August.

The move comes just weeks after the restaurant announced a breadstick sandwich, scheduled to debut on June 1. However, more breadsticks should come as no surprise as Olive Garden revamps its menu to play up its core competencies.

“The flavor profile of the breadstick is powerful,” said Jose Duenas, Olive Garden’s executive vice president of marketing, in an interview with the AP.

So powerful, in fact, that Olive Garden customers are demanding even more breadstick innovation. Jim Nuetzi, executive chef for Olive Garden, explained that “he has been getting other suggestions for dishes that incorporate breadsticks” ever since the breadstick sandwich was revealed.

MONEY food and drink

Burger King Testing Hot Dogs and Corn Dogs

Inside A Russian McDonald's Corp. Restaurant As Putin Instigates Government Investigation
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Residents of Michigan and Maryland will be the first to get their hands on some experimental Burger King dogs.

Fast-food fans, rejoice. Hot dogs and corn dogs may one day come to a Burger King near you.

According to the Consumerist, the Whopper maker is now testing both types of dogs at locations in Maryland and Michigan. Alas, it remains unclear exactly which stores are serving this experimental menu item, but we do know corn dogs will cost $1.49 each, while grilled hot dogs will run you $1.99 and come with ketchup, mustard, onions, and relish.

If this pilot program is expanded, Burger King will be entering a cut-throat hot dog/corn dog market where Sonic is currently king. Arch-rival McDonalds also experimented with a McHotDog in the past, but the product was a failure and later relegated to Japan. As the Consumerist notes, Burger King also previously released a breakfast hot dog (you read that right) in Japan, which makes us wonder if Japan likes hot dogs even more than Americans do.

MONEY Fast Food

Taco Bell Jumps On ‘Natural’ Ingredients Bandwagon

The fast-food chain plans to remove all artificial flavors and colors. About 95% of the menu will be affected.

TIME Fast Food

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut Are Getting Rid of Artificial Ingredients

The country's biggest food makers are facing pressure from smaller rivals that position themselves as more wholesome alternatives

(NEW YORK)—Taco Bell and Pizza Hut say they’re getting rid of artificial colors and flavors, making them the latest big food companies scrambling to distance themselves from ingredients people might find unappetizing.

Instead of “black pepper flavor,” for instance, Taco Bell will start using actual black pepper in its seasoned beef, says Liz Matthews, the chain’s chief food innovation officer.

The Mexican-style chain also says the artificial dye Yellow No. 6 will be removed from its nacho cheese, Blue No. 1 will be removed from its avocado ranch dressing and carmine, a bright pigment, will be removed from its red tortilla strips.

Matthews said some of the new recipes are being tested in select markets and should be in stores nationally by the end of the year.

The country’s biggest food makers are facing pressure from smaller rivals that position themselves as more wholesome alternatives. Chipotle in particular has found success in marketing itself as an antidote to traditional fast food, although some question the meaningfulness of some of its claims. In April, Chipotle announced it had removed genetically modified organisms from its food, even though the Food and Drug Administration says GMOs are safe.

Critics say the purging of chemicals is a response to unfounded fears over ingredients, but companies are nevertheless rushing to ensure their recipes don’t become marketing disadvantages. In recent months, restaurant chains including Panera, McDonald’s and Subway have said they’re switching to ingredients people can easily recognize.

John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State University, said companies are realizing some ingredients may not be worth the potential harm they might cause to their images, given changing attitudes about additives.

Additionally, he noted that the removal of artificial ingredients can be a way for companies to give their food a healthy glow without making meaningful changes to their nutritional profiles. For instance, Coupland said reducing salt, sugar or portion sizes would have a far bigger impact on public health.

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are owned by Yum Brands Inc., which had hinted the changes would be on the way. At a conference for investors late last year, Yum CEO Greg Creed referred to the shifting attitudes and the desire for “real food” as a revolution in the industry.

Representatives at KFC and Yum’s corporate headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky were not immediately available to comment on whether the fried chicken chain would also be removing artificial ingredients.

Pizza Hut says it will remove artificial colors and preservatives by the end of July.

Taco Bell says it will take out artificial colors, artificial flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and unsustainable palm oil from its food by the end of 2015. It says artificial preservatives will be removed “where possible” by 2017. The moves do not affect fountain drinks or co-branded products, such as its Doritos-flavored taco shells.

Brian Niccol, the chain’s CEO, said price increases are based on a variety of factors, and that the company would work to keep its menu affordable.

“I do not want to lose any element of being accessible to the masses,” Niccol said.

When asked whether the changes would affect taste, a representative for Taco Bell said in an email that “It will be the same great tasting Taco Bell that people love.”

MONEY freebies

Free Smoothies at White Castle on Sunday

White Castle restaurant sign
K. L. Howard—Alamy

Who knew White Castles had smoothies?

White Castle wants you know it’s come a long way from its days as a beloved late-night greasy burger hangout for Harold and Kumar, the Beastie Boys, and their legions of followers. White Castle now has restaurants in the West—Las Vegas, where a location on the Strip has generated record-setting sales—and the menu has been expanded to include new flavors (Sriracha sliders) and even some healthy(ish) options.

The “Original Slider” chain introduced veggie sliders to the menu late last year, and in recent weeks it rolled out a choice of two new fruit smoothies: Peach and Strawberry Banana. Both flavors are made with Dole fruit and Yoplait low-fat yogurt.

And here’s your excuse to give the chain’s smoothies a taste: On Sunday, May 24, customers who present this coupon at participating White Castle locations are welcomed to their choice of smoothie in a 10-oz. size.

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