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2 fast-food chains give buns the boot

USA Today, December 15, 2003

No more "gimme a burger and hold the bun." Low-carb mania may reach new highs Monday when the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. hamburger chains announce plans to introduce the fast-food world's first "low-carb burgers."

The big bunless burgers - one-third to half a pound - will come wrapped in large leaves of iceberg lettuce for a handhold on the burger and fixings.

The move comes at a time when nearly one in four Americans - inspired by the wildly popular Atkins diet plan - are at least testing low-carb diets. Miller makes low-carb beer. Panera Bread - hit by the diet craze - has announced plans for low-carb bread. And now comes the bunless, fast-food burger that will, in one case, reduce carbohydrates from 61 grams to 6 grams.

"Let 'em poke fun at it," says Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent company to the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. chains. "But you wouldn't want to do this with a McDonald's burger."

That's because the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. burgers are so big. The 1/3-pound, $2.89 Hardee's version will be dubbed the Low Carb Thickburger and at Carl's Jr., weighing in at 1/2 pound, will be the Low Carb Six Dollar Burger that actually costs a mere $3.95.

Prices are the same as the same size conventional burgers. "The ingredients are a little cheaper, but the labor costs are more," explains Puzder.

For months, many low-carb dieters at casual dining chains such as T.G.I. Friday's and Chili's have ordered burgers bunless. But Hardee's and Carl's emerge as the two fast-food chains to market the bunless burgers as menu items.

"It's a great idea," says Matthew DiFrisco, analyst at Harris Nesbitt. "That's one in four people who can go to Hardee's or Carl's Jr. who might not have."

Puzder says the company got the idea simply by watching consumers. More and more were ordering the burgers and removing the buns - then eating with knives and forks.

The low-carb burgers will be available at Hardee's beginning today and at Carl's Jr. beginning Dec. 31. Ketchup also will be reduced in both, and dill pickles will be subbed for sweet. The chains' chicken sandwiches also will be sold in a similar format, Puzder says.

The timing is intentional, Puzder says, because so many consumers begin dieting after New Year's. But not all nutritional experts are impressed.

"This makes me laugh," says Robyn Flipse, a registered dietitian from Ocean, N.J. "People are deluding themselves into thinking this is weight-loss food. It is a very high-calorie and high-fat item without all the other pieces of the Atkins diet in place."

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