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Chef’s Choice Reflects New Thinking on Price

A day after Wendy’s said it needs to rebalance its menu by adding more premium-price items, Burger King showed how it’s done. The chain extended its top-of-the-line Chef’s Choice brand introduced just a few months ago with two new burgers.

Chef's Choices: Knockin' on the $5 door

The 5.5-oz.-patty Chef’s Choice burgers are priced at $4.99 as chains continue the previously forecast strategy of regaining store profits and offsetting high beef prices by rolling out burgers at the $5 ceiling that already is showing cracks. Chains simply aren’t going to take one for the team on pricing any longer.

One of Burger King’s new Chef’s Choices doesn’t just usurp the blue-cheese-burger category Wendy’s pioneered among QSRs in February 2010, it borrows the Bacon & Blue name (but uses the French “bleu” although there’s no claim—nor chance–that the cheese is imported). Fair enough; Wendy’s owned that niche but gave it up, and BK is smart to claim it. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to see Wendy’s bring back its Bacon & Blue as an LTO this year. Burger King’s version has its new thicker, hardwood-smoked bacon that in-store merchandising has been touting, along with blue cheese, red onion, tomato and romaine lettuce.

The second extension is a Bacon Cheddar BBQ with the same toppings as the other new Chef’s Choice plus Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet ‘n Spicy BBQ.

McBistro: Up and over $5

Wendy’s say it raised the price of its W cheeseburger to $3.19, but competitors are flying higher. Carl’s Jr/Hardee’s new Southwest Patty Melt is about $4.89 (prices vary). Jack in the Box’s BLT Cheeseburger Combo is $4.99; so is Steak ‘n Shake’s 3D Grilled Cheese Steakburger.

That’s approaching fast-casual pricing, as noted before. Smashburger’s basic 5.3-oz. burger is $4.99, with a 7.5-oz. patty at $5.99. That’s without add-ons like bacon, of course, and Smashburger’s specialty burgers run $5.99/$6.99 undressed. Burger chains aren’t quite there yet.

But they’re getting closer. The previously reported McBistro chicken sandwiches McDonald’s has introduced in Canada. Prices vary, but in some center-city locations the Chicken BLT, South West Chicken and Swiss Mushroom Melt McBistros are priced at $5.19 (that’s $5.24 US). A combo meal takes you well over $7. If ground-beef prices stay high, look for $5.19 to become the new $4.99 very soon.

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