Burger King is trying to revive its ailing empire with a rival's recipe for success.
After years of lackluster sales of its Whoppers and fries, the struggling fast-food giant Monday launched 10 food items in its biggest menu expansion since the chain was started in 1954.
But there are unmistakable similarities between Burger King's new lineup and the offerings its much-bigger rival McDonald's has rolled out in recent years. The Golden Arches introduced specialty salads in 2003, snack wraps in 2006, premium coffee drinks in 2009 and fruit smoothies in 2010.
Burger King doesn't deny that its new chicken strips, caramel frappé coffees, Caesar salads and strawberry-banana smoothies sound pretty close to those on McDonald's popular menu. But executives say the company came up with them through its research.
"Consumers wanted more choices," said Steve Wiborg, president of Burger King's North America operations. "Not just healthy choices, but choices they could get at the competition."
The menu additions are part of Burger King's plan to abandon its nearly single-minded courtship of young men, who were once the lifeblood of the industry but were hard-hit by the economic downturn. Competitors went after new customers with breakfast items and healthier fare, but Burger King let its menu get stale. As a result, Burger King for the first time was edged out by Wendy's last year as the nation's No. 2 burger chain. McDonald's solidified its hold on No. 1.
Burger King's revamp is a gamble. The new food could be a flop, and of course the chain is already late to the party.
"Being an innovator is critical in the fast-food industry," said Darren Tristano, an analyst for the food industry researcher Technomic Inc. But in recent years, he said, Burger King has been more of a follower.
Eddie Yoon, a principal at consulting firm The Cambridge Group, said companies like Burger King that come out with products similar to their rivals' can be successful only if they offer lower prices or superior taste. But if it's merely a "me too" strategy, he said. Burger King's venture could fall flat.