- ‘First time we’ve tapped into the Tex-Mex category,’
- U.S. industry facing tough environment as spending slows
Burger King’s latest new item is taking a stab at Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which is still reeling from a string of foodborne illness outbreaks.
The Whopperito, which puts Whopper burger ingredients like beef, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and pickles inside a flour tortilla, will be sold nationally beginning Aug. 15. A queso sauce replaces the mayonnaise from the hamburger.
“It’s certainly one of the first times that we’ve tapped into the Tex-Mex category,” Alex Macedo, North American president at Burger King, said in an interview. “It’s one of the fastest-growing categories -- consumers like the freshness of it, they like the mix of flavors.”
The U.S. restaurant industry is facing a tough environment as consumers pull back spending. Chains are competing fiercely with low-priced meal deals and heavy advertising. Burger King, which reported second-quarter same-store sales that trailed analysts’ estimates last week, has been trying to use new fare to bring in more diners.
The burrito-burger mashup may help the chain attract Americans who are eating at Chipotle less after E. coli and norovirus outbreaks sickened dozens across the U.S. The idea for a Whopper burrito came from a franchisee with stores in Ohio and Pennsylvania and was tested in some locations in June, Macedo said. The Whopperito isn’t in response to any competitive activity, he said.
Earlier this year Burger King started selling an Egg-Normous breakfast burrito, stuffed with sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, cheese and served with picante sauce. The chain, owned by Restaurant Brands International Inc., has strayed from its traditional menu recently with the addition of hot dogs and deep-fried sticks of macaroni and cheese.
Yet burger chains have had mixed results when trying to branch into Mexican fare. McDonald’s Corp. in 2002 tried selling chicken fajita roll-ups at some Southern California restaurants. While the item never really took off, the chain still has breakfast burritos. Tim Hortons, also owned by Restaurant Brands, sells grilled chicken and steak fajita wraps with chipotle sauce, peppers, onions and cheese.
Chipotle has been trying to lure back diners with coupons and a new loyalty program that allows customers to earn free food. Still, the Mexican eatery is struggling to revive traffic: Same-store sales tumbled 23.6 percent in the second quarter, a steeper drop than analysts expected.
Last month, Chipotle said it’s getting into Burger King’s line of business with a new concept called Tasty Made, which will open this fall in Lancaster, Ohio. The restaurant will have a very limited menu, though, with only hamburgers, French fries and milkshakes.
The Whopperito is $2.99 and will be sold for three to four months. That’s cheaper than Chipotle’s beef burritos, which cost about $9 in New York and $7 in more rural U.S. areas.
But those wanting a little more heat in their Mexican fare may have to turn elsewhere. The Whopperito is meant to appeal to a broad swath of Americans.
“It’s not too spicy,” Macedo said. “It’s funky, but it’s not polarizing.”