The Week in Ideas, November 11, 2011

Just as the week was about to close on a so-so raft of restaurant ideas, a big thinker uncorked a notion that left the whole business bug-eyed.

Howard Schultz’s decision to steer Starbucks into the health-food market eclipsed such ah-ha moments as Wendy’s disclosure of a new strategy for weaning consumers off 99-cent menus, or Burger King’s bid to crack McDonald’s hold on kids.  But we at Week in Ideas feel obliged to report all the above-average brainwork of the prior seven days. Which, of course, leads us to KFC’s latest publicity grab, the puzzling announcement that Colonel Harland Sanders might’ve tried his finger-lickin’ hands at writing.

We’ve witnessed these stunts before from those kooks at Fry Station Central, a.k.a. the Louisville headquarters of KFC and its parent, Yum! Brands. Need we remind you of the projection of the Colonel’s visage on the moon, or the depiction of Sanders in the Nevada desert in a mosaic large enough to be seen from space?

This time around, headquarters breathlessly announced that longtime Yum spokeswoman Amy Sherwood had stumbled across a lost manuscript, a food memoir from the Colonel, in some dusty corner of the home office. We know Amy, and she never struck as us as the type to spend her lunchtimes poking around cellars, attics and dark closets.

Whatever. KFC attests the unpublished book, an account of Harland Sanders’ life and food loves, is genuine. It’s crowing that the dining memoir proves the colonel was a foodie ahead of his time. As proof, the home office has promised to post some excerpts online in the near future.

It hasn’t given a reason for publicizing the discovery of the long-lost memoir. Perhaps it’s betting that consumers will be so impressed by the Colonel’s appreciation of food that they’ll gaze more favorably upon Original Recipe.

We’ll hold off on an assessment of Extra Crispy until we’ve seen the excerpts. With all due respect to the chicken specialist, it seems a little fishy to us.

There’s neither mystery nor subtlety to the light bulb above Burger King’s head this week. The chain is trying to bolster its appeal to kids by revamping the chain’s kids meals, from the packaging to the contents. Like McDonald’s, it’s now inviting tykes to swap French fries for apple slices. They can munch the fruit while wearing a cardboard crown that detaches from the meals’ box.

In case anyone misses the TV ads or the considerable online buzz ignited by the new packaging, BK had the idea of floating a giant crown-shaped boat around that queen of crown bearers, the Statue of Liberty. The round boat measures some 60 feet in circumference and juts 15 feet above the waterline. The chain is boasting that the float will go down in history as the world’s largest crown.

But let’s get back to that other crowning development of the week, the announcement that Starbucks will launch a third chain (after its namesake concept and Seattle’s Best) next year to sell fresh-pressed juices and healthful food. Before the Evolution Fresh brand shows up on freestanding stores, it’ll appear on packaged juices sold in Starbucks’ coffee shops.

Starbucks bought the brand for $30 million, the latest effort by the company to keep its business relevant.

Wendy’s is trying to do the same with a new burger called the W, disclosed by executives last week during a call with investors. They described it as a mid-tier burger, sandwiched between low-priced Single and the new Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy premium options.

The idea is to give bargain hunters a compelling reason to trade up from the 99-cent deals they’ve favored during the economic downturn.

If that doesn’t work, execs could always go rummaging through the attic for some forgotten missive from Dave Thomas.


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