NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Burger King said Thursday it will begin selling a veggie burger that will be the first to be nationally available at a fast-food restaurant.
The 330-calorie veggie burger, which goes on sale Monday at a recommended price of $1.99, includes a patty made of vegetables, grains and spices, the same four-inch sesame-seed bun used for the chain's hamburgers, shredded lettuce, two tomato slices and 3/8 of an ounce of reduced-fat mayonnaise. It contains 10 grams of fat, including 2 grams of saturated fat. Customers can cut the fat if they hold off on the reduced-fat mayonnaise, which contains 3 grams of fat, including half a gram of saturated fat.
The reduced-fat mayonnaise also is a new addition to the menu, which customers will be able to order with Burger King's Whopper and other sandwiches.
Nutrition and competition
Burger King competitor McDonald's (MCD: Research, Estimates) began selling vegetable burgers in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and India in the early 1990s and in some U.S. stores in 1998. But the chain doesn't sell the veggie burgers on a nationwide basis, leaving the field open for Burger King to claim it is the first chain to do so.
Kellogg Company (K: Research, Estimates)'s Morningstar Farms is the sole supplier of the vegetable patties, a Burger King spokeswoman said. Morningstar already markets and sells vegetable patties to the general public under the Garden Veggie brand.
But the Burger King patties are different from the Garden Veggie brand, as they were developed exclusively for Burger King. For example, Morningstar's Garden Veggie patties include soy protein concentrate, but Burger King works with the nonprofit Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) allergy-information clearinghouse, and it didn't want soy included in its patties because some people are allergic to soy.
The patties do contain corn syrup solids and corn oil, and some people are allergic to those products, although they usually don't cause the severe reactions caused by other foods, such as peanuts. Burger King has told FAAN that none of its products contain peanuts or peanut-based products, said FAAN spokeswoman Anne Munoz-Furlong.
Some customers may want to take advantage of Burger King's longstanding "Have it your way" slogan and have their BK Veggie Burger cooked separately. For example, people who are allergic to milk products might want their veggie burger cooked separately to be certain it doesn't touch a cheeseburger and cause an allergic reaction, Munoz-Furlong said.
And Burger King is happy to microwave the veggie burgers instead of flame-broiling them if that's acceptable to vegetarian customers. But the products won't qualify as a part of the diet of vegans because eggs are used to make the reduced-fat mayonnaise. "We're not pegging this as a product for vegans," the Burger King spokeswoman told CNN/Money. Instead, the chain is marketing the product as a menu enhancement that has been requested by customers.
The business side of the burger
The company is casting the veggie burger in the light of the new advertising it launched on March 4, which is, "BK, YOU GOT IT!" The new slogan, along with 13 new or enhanced products, have been introduced to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Whopper sandwich. Among the new products it has said it plans to launch are a flame-broiled chicken sandwich, a Chicken Whopper and BK Back Porch Grillers, new line of premium hamburgers.
Burger King Corp., a subsidiary of Diageo PLC (DEO: Research, Estimates), plans to run a full-page ad in USA Today on March 18 as well as television commercials to support the launch of the veggie burger. It has also planned television commercials to celebrate the other new products and the Whopper. One commercial shows basketball star Shaquille O'Neal walking through the past 45 years to get a Whopper.
Burger King hopes the veggie burger will attract new customers who didn't previously buy food at the store because there wasn't anything on the menu that appealed to them, in addition to providing existing customers with another choice. The company didn't provide any projections for how much revenue it might garner from the veggie burger. "This is all about variety," the spokeswoman said.
Burger King can't mandate prices, so the $1.99 price is a recommended price point that could vary between locations. Franchisees account for about 92 percent of Burger King stores.
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The changes to Burger King's product line-up come as the company prepares for an even bigger change: its separation from Diageo, which the parent company has said it expects to complete by the end of the year. Diageo has said it plans to split off Burger King through either a leveraged buyout or an initial public offering, and hopes to complete the separation by the end of 2002.
Diageo had originally planned to conduct a partial IPO of Burger King in the summer of 2001, but cancelled it because of poor conditions in the IPO market.