NEW YORK — Burger King wants people to feel less guilty about gobbling up its french fries.
The world's No. 2 hamburger chain is launching a new crinkle-cut french fry on Tuesday that it says has about 20 percent fewer calories than its regular fries.
The chain says a small order of the new "Satisfries" clocks in at 270 calories because of a new batter that doesn't absorb as much oil. By comparison, a small order of its regular fries, sans crinkles, has 340 calories.
The concept of taking an indulgent food and removing some of the guilt isn't new, of course. Supermarkets are filled with baked potato chips, 100-calorie packs of popular treats. Such creations play on people's inability to give up their food vices, even as they struggle to eat better. The idea is to create something that skimps on calories, but not on taste.
Burger King executives say people won't be able to tell that Satisfries are lower in calories. It says they use the same ingredients as its regular fries — potatoes, oil and batter. To keep kitchen operations simple, they're even made in the same fryers and cooked for the same amount of time as regular fries.
The difference is that the proportions of the batter's ingredients are adjusted so that it blocks out more oil, Burger King says. The crinkle-cut shape is in part so workers will be able to easily distinguish them from the regular fries when they're deep frying them together.
"You need to make things as simple as possible," says Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King's chief marketing officer.
Alex Macedo, head of North American operations at Burger King, said the chain worked with one of its potato suppliers, McCain Foods, to develop the lower-calorie fries. He said McCain can't sell the fries to other fast-food clients and that different suppliers might have a tough time imitating them.
Reporters were given a preview of the fries at a New York City hotel last week. Attendees were each served a carton of the fries that look and taste like any other fries, even leaving the familiar grease stains in their paper cartons.
Burger King led off its presentation by comparing the fries to the "leading french fries," which are made by McDonald's. On a pound-for-pound basis, executives noted that the new fries have 30 percent fewer calories than those served at the Golden Arches.
The comparison to McDonald's may prove to be confusing for some, since fast-food chains each have their own definitions of what qualifies as a small, medium or large.
A small serving at McDonald's, for example, weighs considerably less than a small order at Burger King. As a result, a small order of McDonald's fries has 230 calories — which is still less than the 270 calories for a small serving of Burger King's Satisfries. A "value" order of Satisfries at Burger King — which is closer in weight to the small size at McDonald's — has 190 calories.
When asked if it had any plans to introduce lower-calorie fries as well, McDonald's said in a statement that it remained focused on serving the "iconic" fries that its customers love. McDonald's fries aren't battered like Burger King's fries.
Satisfries is the latest gambit by Burger King Worldwide Inc. to revive its image after a series of ownership changes. 3G Capital, the Brazilian private investment firm that bought the chain and took it private in 2010, unveiled a revamped menu last spring right before announcing a deal to take the chain public again.
The deal was structured in a way that let 3G more than recoup the $3.26 billion it paid for the chain, while maintaining a majority stake. Burger King's stock price is up 37 percent over the past year and trading close to $20 per share.
Despite ramped up new menu offerings, sales at Burger King locations open at least a year slipped 0.5 percent in the U.S. and Canada, where it has about 7,200 locations. The metric is a key gauge of health because it strips out the volatility of newly opened and closed locations.
Still, Burger King is betting Satisfries will be so popular that people will be willing to fork over more money for them. The suggested price for a small order of Satisfries is $1.89, compared with $1.59 for regular fries. That's a 19 percent markup.
At the event in New York, registered dietitian Keri Gans said Satisfries were about giving people a way to make a small change and still enjoy the foods they love.
"We're not trying to change the world," Hirschhorn agreed.