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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 1, 2004

Fast-food chains see big bucks in clucks

By Theresa howard
USA Today

NEW YORK — Where the heck's the beef?

McDonald's strutted its feathers last week by launching all-white-meat Chicken Selects strips, which, at $2.89 for three, cost about $1 more than a Quarter Pounder.

The national rollout for the world's biggest fast-food chain signals how sizzling fried chicken nuggets, strips and sandwiches are at burger joints these days. Consumers who perceive poultry as more healthy are demanding better-for-you portable meals. Chicken products are ruling the roost on fast-food menus and growing faster than burgers.

"Given it's protein, it still fits the low-carb mania that continues on some level," says Ron Paul, president of restaurant industry tracker Technomic.

Sales of chicken strips and nuggets climbed 18 percent, while burgers grew just 1 percent for the 52 weeks ended May 31, vs. the same period a year earlier, says Michele Schmal, vice president at NPD Foodworld.

"Growing sales of chicken reflect consumer response to marketing and product improvements and launches," Schmal says. So McDonald's has jumped on the chicken express.

"We're excited with what this could do for our business," says Mike Roberts, CEO of McDonald's USA. "This is all about choice, variety and affordability."

All-white-meat Chicken Nuggets, launched in 2003, have bolstered McDonald's sales. Today chicken represents 30 percent of the menu at McDonald's, up from 19.3 percent at the end of 2002. In the past three years, chicken sales have risen 15 percent annually.

Olympians Serena Williams and Mia Hamm will star in ads starting Aug. 10 to promote Chicken Selects and its three dipping sauces.

Other burger joints serving chicken:

• Burger King. Since arriving on menus in March, the TenderCrisp Chicken and Spicy TenderCrisp sandwich line has raised Burger King sales at restaurants open at least a year by 11.8 percent for franchisees and 16.5 percent for company-owned restaurants in June. "It's been a huge success for us," says Russ Klein, chief marketing officer.

• Wendy's. Last fall, the chain introduced Homestyle Chicken Strips and in April, revamped its three-variety chicken sandwich line. "Although hamburgers are in our name, we're known for chicken, and it's increasingly an important part of our menu," spokesman Bob Bertini says. Sales of chicken products are up 50 percent in the past three years at Wendy's, he says.

• Hardee's, Carl's Jr. On the West Coast, consumers like charbroiled sandwiches at Carl's Jr., but in the Southeast, consumers at sister brand Hardee's favor fried. The latest addition on both coasts is the Charbroiled Chicken Club sandwich.