By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Wendy’s is making a high-end re-entry into Japan with a $16 burger festooned with foie gras and truffles.
The third-largest fast-food chain in the United States (potentially soon to supplant Burger King for the No. 2 spot) took a breather from Japan for two years but returned this week to launch a restaurant in a luxury shopping area in Tokyo.
That franchisee developed the luxurious 1,280-yen (about $16.45) sandwich — the folks at Wendy’s corporate offices said they “really don’t have anything to do with it.” The goose liver confection won’t show up in the United States anytime soon — Wendy’s said its most expensive item here is likely a salad or a triple cheeseburger, in the $5 to $6 range.
Besides, customers in California already have their pick of foie gras sandwiches — at least before the delicacy is outlawed in the state next year. There’s one sandwich for $16 at the Torrance restaurant Buffalo Fire Department, and another — for $26 — at RH in West Hollywood.
Wendy’s Chief Executive Emil Brolick has said the company will aim eventually to triple its number of foreign restaurants to about 1,000 eateries. Other fast-food giants, including KFC owner Yum Brands, are also looking overseas for growth opportunities.
That’s because chains are better able to experiment internationally, according to Nick Setyan, a restaurant industry analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc.
Fast-food chains that are associated with a “get-in, get-out” vibe in the United States are considered more high-end and even elite abroad, Setyan said. In many other countries, Pizza Hut is a sit-down casual dining concept and McDonald’s is an event destination, he said.
Chains can work their creative magic trying to adapt to cultural preferences among foreign customers, Setyan said. Hence McDonald’s Chicken Maharaja Mac in India, where many residents don’t eat beef for religious reasons. KFC sells congee rice porridge in China. Burger King’s recent Russian ads are much more flamboyant than the ingredient-focused equivalents in the United States.
Fast-food chains are increasingly feeling pressure domestically, especially as a slew of “better burger” fast-casual brands, such as Five Guys and Smashburger, poach customers.