A ban on foie gras is due to become law in a few months in California. Chefs and those who are fans of eating fattened goose or duck livers will have to get their forks on it clandestinely (violators of the law will face fines of up to $1,000 a day) or travel beyond the state’s borders. For a fast fast-food foie gras fix, they could go all the way to Japan. The #3 burger chain in the US, Wendy’s, has announced that it will be adding foie gras and truffles to its burgers (and a “red wine demi-glace reduction”) as part of a $200 million reinvestment in Japan, after shutting its doors there in 2009 due to declining profits.
Bloomberg reports that the Premium sandwich (pictured on the Huffington Post) sells for 1,280 yen ($16) at Wendy’s in the Omotesando luxury shopping district in Tokyo. The decision to add the fancified foie gras burger is part of Wendy’s strategy to expand outside the US (where it received 92 percent of its revenue in 2010). The Dublin, Ohio, based Wendy’s hopes eventually to open 700 restaurants in Japan; the foie gras burger is the company’s attempt to differentiate itself from the competition. Ernest Higa, chief executive officer of Wendy’s Japan LLC, is quoted as saying that “‘We think the fast-food market here is ready for something different.’”
McDonald’s has 3,300 restaurants in Japan, which is the world’s second-largest fast-food market, and Wendy’s executives admit they are trying to carve out a niche in a highly competitive environment. Another challenge is Japan’s less than rosy economic outlook after a brief economic rebound following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Higa emphasizes that being “‘unique and exciting’” is necessary.
But in a year when 99 percent took to the streets and occupied public spaces, serving up burgers with “luxury “ingredients seems a step — or rather several steps — in the wrong direction. Even more, foie gras, to the dismay of many a French cuisine-loving chef, has become a controversial food associated (in the US, at least) with animal cruelty. Wendy’s decision to serve fattened goose or duck liver burgers — the birds are specially fattened by being force-fed — shows that it is seeking out a “niche” it may very likely regret setting its sights on.
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