Political correctness and fast food4/17/2013
America’s fast food industry behaves more like its network television industry every year. Both spend billions of dollars researching and launching new products. Then, despite all that investment, neither hesitates to dump a new production if audiences don’t immediately respond. Pizza Hut introduced its pizza sliders in February with Super Bowl advertisements. I found them perhaps the most edible products yet from that Yum Brands giant. I could order as few as three for $5 and specify up to three different toppings on each, making them a decent cheap snack for three kids. Before March Madness had peaked, though, Pizza Hut threw them on the dung heap of fast food fiascos. “Nobody bought them,” explained a local Pizza Hut worker.
Those pizza sliders were replaced by “crazy cheesy crust” (CCC) pies that pack 50 percent more fat into each slice compared to regular crust pies. My CCC pie appeared to have 12 cheese-stuffed bread bowls grafted onto its trunk in an Americanized version of similar pizza served internationally. In Asia, Pizza Hut stuffs the bread bowls with hot dogs and in the Middle East with mini cheeseburgers. Its success is as mysterious as that of “The Big Bang Theory.”
CCC pizzas are symptomatic of an industry-wide retreat from political correctness. In previous decades, social pressures enticed fast-food giants into providing “healthy choices” that flailed in the marketplace. It allowed executives to sleep better, but it pissed off their investors. After seeing its market share drop, industry leader McDonald’s threw stockholders a meatier bone last month and dumped its fruit-and-walnut salads. It was far behind the curve though. At the Coralville Steak ‘n Shake, I recently discovered that company’s new “7×7” burger crammed seven burger patties and seven pieces of American cheese between buns. Yum Brands’ Taco Bell, which was caught using horsemeat for beef in the U.K., recently reported record sales for its new “Cool Ranch Doritos” tacos, which replaced fried tortillas with a much saltier, modified Doritos shell.
In the current millennium, no company has flaunted political correctness as successfully as Hardee’s. In 2001, at a time when major fast-food giants were introducing “healthy menus,” it launched its gut-busting Thickburger. In advertising it, Hardee’s has consistently bullied the PC mindset. Thickburger’s first spokesperson was steroid supermodel Mark McGuire. Its most successful spokesperson was supermodel Padma Lakhsmi, whose 2009 ad launched the “Western Thickburger.” Wearing spiked heels and sweating through a cleavage-revealing dress pulled up to her crotch, Padma devoured a messy burger while licking spilled sauce from her legs and arms. Straight women and gay men both told me that ad made them question their sexuality. Hardee’s stuck with this format, though, adding a string of bikini supermodels.
This year’s new Thickburger launch, however, is more campy than sexy, featuring Heidi Klum as Mrs. Robinson from “The Graduate.” It flaunts PC thinking by introducing alcoholic brand loyalty to a younger generation. My “Jim Beam Bourbon Burger” came with crisply fried onion straws, pepper jack cheese, two slices of bacon, lettuce and tomato covered with Jim Beam bourbon-flavored sauce. At the new Hardee’s on Merle Hay, it was actually made to order and delivered to my table. “Charbroiling” was simulated. Hardee’s no longer uses coals. Both the burger patty and its honey-wheat bun ranked above other fast food choices in town. The bourbon sauce was probably the sweetest BBQ sauce I ever tasted.
Side Dishes Recently I toured The Wittern Group in Clive. That company designs vending machines that use high-security devices and both heating and cooling systems, dispense $1 coins as change and accept all kinds of transaction cards and alert vendors when machines need to be restocked. LED lights reduce their carbon footprints. Multiple barriers allow three different temperatures within a single machine. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.