MIAMI -- When Burger King set about to fix its ailing empire, the fast food giant started by scrutinizing everything on the menu -- even the mayonnaise.
During the past year, Burger King evaluated all of its ingredients from the bacon to the cheese slices it serves on its chargrilled burgers as part of a yearlong quest to reverse years of slumping sales of its Whoppers and fries. The result: Today, it plans to launch a lineup of smoothies, frappe coffees, chicken strips and snack wraps. The 10 new items mark Burger King's biggest menu expansion since the chain opened its doors in 1954.
Burger King's food odyssey shows how grueling it can be for a fast-food company to come up with new menu items -- a process most Americans aren't aware of when they're handed a bag at a drive-thru window. Burger King is the latest chain to revamp its menu as part of the fast-food industry's move away from its almost single-minded courtship of young men. Once the lifeblood of the industry, the economic downturn hit those junk food fanatics particularly hard. At the same time, Americans generally have been demanding healthier options.
The company also decided to give its stores a more modern look that mixes leather armchairs, high stools and plastic chairs in warmer lighting. High partitions will create more privacy in some seating areas. The makeover costs an average of more than $275,000 per restaurant.
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So far, more than 1,000 franchise locations are slated to be updated in the next year. Over the next three years, 2,500 will be remodeled.
To get the word out about the changes, Burger King is rolling out its biggest marketing campaign ever. TV ads will feature celebrities, including soccer player David Beckham, comedian Jay Leno and actress Salma Hayek. In one spot, R&B singer Mary J. Blige croons the ingredients of the snack wraps.
Whether the star power of the ads, updated stores and the new food on the menu can fix Burger King's troubles remains to be seen. But Alex Macedo, chief marketing officer for Burger King North America, said the chain has a good chance of rebounding because Burger King is a brand everyone knows.
"People love Burger King and really want a reason to come back," he said.