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Hardee's bucks trend, rolls out another big burger

May 14, 2008

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- At a time when many restaurant chains are counting calories and cutting portion sizes, leave it to Hardee's to launch another in its line of Thickburgers -- and its most expensive yet.

The St. Louis-based fast-food chain's latest menu addition, available as of Wednesday, is the Prime Rib Thickburger. The sandwich -- 780 calories and 48 grams of fat -- will have a suggested price of $4.49, or $6.49 with fries and a drink.

"We've never been ones to follow the fast-food herd mentality," said Brad Haley, vice president of marketing for Hardee's.

The Prime Rib Thickburger is almost health food compared to some Hardee's offerings -- the chain offers four sandwiches with more than 1,000 calories, most famously the Monster Thickburger with 1,420 calories and 108 grams of fat.

The Prime Rib Thickburger is the latest installment in the company's meat-as-condiment line that began with the Philly Cheesesteak Thickburger's introduction two years ago. It features a one-third pound beef patty topped with thinly sliced prime rib, horseradish sauce, Swiss cheese and grilled onions on a ciabatta roll -- with a cup of au jus for dipping if requested.

The sandwich arrives at a time when many fast-food chains are promoting value menus with smaller, cheaper, lower-calorie options. Even casual dining restaurants now offer menu items lower in size and calories, and at reduced prices.

T.G.I. Friday's introduced its "Right Portion, Right Price" entrees last year after its research found that half of Americans wanted smaller portions. The dishes are roughly one-third smaller and one-third cheaper than full-size entrees. They now make up about 15 percent of total orders.

Quiznos introduced its $2 "Sammies" in November, smaller sandwiches on flatbread featuring a variety of meats and just 200 to 300 calories each. The company has sold 5 million Sammies since, and they now make up 16 percent of sales.

But Andrew Puzder, president of Hardee's parent CKE Restaurants Inc., said other chains are promoting "bottom-feeder food" while customers -- especially Hardee's demographic of men 18 to 34 -- really crave bigger, meatier sandwiches.

"The way we sell quality is this is a burger you'd probably pay $15 to $20 for someplace else, and at Hardee's you pay about $4.50," Puzder said. "We're not out there trying to convince people to eat food that I wouldn't eat if I went to a restaurant myself."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has referred to some Hardee's menu items as "food porn." CSPI senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley noted that Prime Rib Thickburger contains nearly a day's worth of sodium and saturated fat.

"People don't have any clue anymore about a normal serving size," Hurley said. "The problem isn't the occasional bad burger. The problem is the giant scones and Frappucino for breakfast, the big burger for lunch and pizza for dinner."

The Prime Rib Thickburger is available through the end of summer at all Hardee's restaurants and at all Carl's Jr. restaurants starting June 18, Haley said. The item could become a permanent menu fixture if sales are strong, he said.

Carpinteria, Calif.-based CKE operates 3,067 restaurants (1,926 Hardee's and 1,141 Carl's Jr. restaurants) in 42 states and 13 countries.

By Jim Salter