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Fast Food Wars Rage On in the Burger Sector

Earlier this year, we spent a lot of time talking about the fast food wars. McDonald’s was pushing to regain it’s crown, Burger King was trying new products to keep its fans coming through stores, and up-and-comers like Shake Shack, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Smashburger were pushing to enter the mainstream. But as the fast food wars wage on, where is everyone sitting?

There’s been a lot of talk about Burger King and its new products, even adding to its portfolio of hot dogs with the Whopper Dog. However, in recent weeks, Burger King unveiled two new creations that combine different food types. First up, the Whopperito, and yes, it’s just like it sounds: it combines the charms of a burrito with the ingredients of a Whopper. To get an idea of how it tastes, you’ll need to ask customers in the test markets in Hermitage, PA; Warren, OH; and select locations in Texas.

Burger King also took a page out of the Taco Bell “take-two-brands-and-smoosh-them-together” playbook with the seasonal launch of the Mac N’ Cheetos, which is another product that is exactly how it sounds. The product features baked mac n’ cheese inside a cheetos shell, and will be available for about eight weeks.

Burger King may have a hint of monarchy in its name, but McDonald’s retains the crown when it comes to fast food. This claim is not undisputed, however: according to analysts at Nomura, Wendy’s could soon displace the long-running chain as the leader of the burger sector. The analysts argue that despite McDonald’s successes (All Day Breakfast, McPick 2, etc.), the chain is finding it difficult to balance the right value messaging. They call it the “Dollar Menu Hangover,” and the prices for McDonald’s premium products are too high for perceived quality, especially when compared to Chick-fil-A or In-N-Out Burger.

Wendy’s, on the other hand, is doing a fantastic job of leveraging both value and quality in its advertising, according to the analysts. The company has seemed to find the perfect balance in driving a healthy blend of traffic and check growth. Of course, the company’s widely-praised “4 for $4” meal is helping, but limited-time runs of the Bacon Mozzarella Burger and Ghost Pepper Chicken Sandwich and Fries are driving consumers in to get a taste of the products before they disappear.

Can we pick a winner and place a crown just yet? It might be too early to start handing out awards, but it’s very clear that the burger segment is rife with activity. In my estimation, the growing number of new products, new formulations and new deals will only continue to increase as the year goes on and the chains face increased competition. You can be sure that the Food Institute will continue to provide coverage on the expanding fast food wars.