Monday, August 3, 2009

The newest jolt on quick-service menus

McDonald's isn't convinced that energy drinks would make a good addition to its beverage mix. Indeed, it's betting the public will more readily embrace liquid snacks like frappes or smoothies, or thirst quenchers like flavored waters.

But that hasn't stopped three of its quick-service rivals from taking the plunge. Carl's Jr. and its brother in burgers, Hardee's, jointly announced today that they're adding Monster-brand energy drinks to the menus of all stores starting this month. The statement noted how popular the jolt in a can has become among young people. "You can’t walk down the street without seeing a young guy holding a can of Monster," remarked Andrew Puzder, CEO of the chains' parent, CKE Restaurants.

CKE's decision to start selling cans of Monster follows the introduction last month of a proprietary energy-drink brand for Krystal, the regional square-burger specialist. Krystal not only decided to market its own drink, called Blitz, but to offer it in fountain form. Patrons can either have it served over ice, or "frozen," like a slush.

They're clearly seeing opportunity where McDonald's reads at best a possibility. "The jury is still out relative to energy-based drinks," McDonald's USA president Don Thompson reportedly remarked after the company's annual shareholders meeting.

What seems to be missing from the deliberations is how the public will perceive the chains' addition of the highly caffeinated and often heavily sweetened drinks, which are clearly aimed in part at high-schoolers and older teens. Some watchdogs are going to equate the sales push with peddling espresso to children. There very well could be a backlash.

But first, watch for other chains to follow the leads of Carl's, Hardee's and Krystal.

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