Balancing fast-food and healthy food

by Bob Sims
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Fast food and healthy food
Indulgence and nutrition create a divisive challenge for Q.S.R.s.

KANSAS CITY — On Jan. 19, Sonic Corp.’s drive-in restaurants honored National Hot Dog Day by offering patrons its 100% grilled beef 6-inch All-American Hot Dog, topped with ketchup, yellow mustard, relish and chopped onions, and its Chili Cheese Coney, topped with warm chili and cheddar cheese, for $1 throughout the day.

Scott Uehlein, Sonic
Scott Uehlein, vice-president of product innovation and development for Sonic

“In 1953 Troy Smith opened Top Hat, a drive-in focused on quick-service and delivery via skating Carhops that would go on to become Sonic Drive-In,” said Scott Uehlein, vice-president of product innovation and development for Sonic. “Offering great food at a fair price, the limited menu featured hot dogs, hamburgers, onions rings, fries, ice cream and soda.”

Known as one of the largest hamburger chains in the country, hot dogs are still one of Sonic’s signature menu items. One out of every seven hot dogs in America eaten outside of the home is eaten at Sonic, according to Crest Internal Data.


Sonic hot dogs

In addition to the All-American Dog and Chili Cheese Coney Dog, Sonic offers the New York Dog with spicy brown mustard, grilled onions and crunchy sauerkraut; the Chicago Dog with pickle, relish, tomato, sport peppers, celery salt and mustard served in a poppy seed bun; and a corn batter-dipped, beef and pork Corn Dog.

“With our hot dog offerings, guests are able to start from scratch or build off one of our four core combinations,” Mr. Uehlein said. “Guests also love to order our signature Footlong Quarter-pound Chili Cheese Coney, perfect as a meal or for sharing.”

Current limited-time only (L.T.O.) hot dog offerings include the Original Pretzel Dog served in a pretzel bun with mustard and the Cheesy Bacon Pretzel Dog with cheese sauce, grilled onions and bacon in a pretzel bun.

Fast food hot dogs
One of Sonic's L.T.O.s is the Cheesy Bacon Pretzel Dog. Burger King also joined the hot dog category with its Chili Cheese Grilled Dog.

To become an L.T.O. at Sonic, items must endure a testing process for operational impact and consumer appeal, which includes in-market testing, advertising and merchandising.

“If the product performs well in the market test, it will be considered for a national launch,” Mr. Uehlein said. “If an L.T.O. performs extremely well, there is always a possibility it will be brought back as an L.T.O., and in some cases as a permanent menu item.”

Also in the quick-service-restaurant (Q.S.R.) segment, Burger King began offering hot dog products about two years ago. The Miami-based Q.S.R. made its name flame-grilling burgers and now applies that flame-grilling technique to hot dogs. In February 2016, Burger King added the Classic Grilled Dog and the Chili Cheese Grilled Dog to its menu. The Classic Grilled Dog is a flame-grilled beef hot dog topped with ketchup, mustard, onions and relish, served on a baked bun. The Chili Cheese Grilled Dog is the same beef hot dog topped with chili, cheddar cheese and served on a baked bun.

Alex Macedo, Burger King

“The introduction of Grilled Dogs just made sense to our guests and for our brand,” said Alex Macedo, president, North America, for the Burger King brand.

But while Q.S.R.s have upped their decadent and gourmet hot dog games, they’ve also had to listen to the American consumer when it comes to healthier fast-food options.

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