Fast Food's Slow Fail: Why Burger King Will Never Be Great Again

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Burger KingDid you hear that Burger King hired away Hamburglar from McDonald's (MCD)?

It must have. How else could one explain how the new BK menu looks suspiciously similar to what the folks manning the fryers under the golden arches are serving up?

Yes, the new BK menu is a lot like the old Mickey D's menu.

The fast food chain will introduce smoothies, available in both strawberry-banana and mango flavors -- just like you-know-who. A new chicken entree wrapped in a soft flour tortilla and garnished with lettuce and either honey mustard or ranch is a dead ringer for the snack wrap at McDonald's. Don't even get me started on the caramel frappe!

Pretty sneaky, Hamburglar.

Have It Your Way

Things aren't going well at Burger King these days. Wendy's (WEN) -- which has its own unique problems -- actually overtook the home of the Whopper to become the country's second-largest burger chain by sales volume last year. BK had been cemented into second place since 1972 until the red-haired girl seized the throne.

The silver lining here is that retail investors aren't paying the price for BK's fall from grace. Brazilian private-equity firm 3G Partners acquired the fire-grilled burger specialist in late 2010.

It was clearly a bad bet, as a meandering chain that seems to be down to copying the leader even as it swaps out its silver medal for a bronze one probably won't be popular with investors.

We'll find that out soon enough. Burger King announced on Tuesday night that it will combine with London-listed investment vehicle Justice Holdings. The move will eventually find Burger King returning to the New York Stock Exchange.

Don't expect a warm welcome from investors when the move is complete.

Copy cats are nothing new
There's nothing inherently wrong with copying the top dog. Burger King had no problem aping McDonald's Sausage McMuffin when it needed a new breakfast sandwich a couple of years ago. Wendy's and BK continue to update their fries to see if they can match the appeal of the shiny shoestrings at McDonald's.

There's also nothing desperate about tweaking the menu. Wendy's reformulated its signature burger back in September for the first time in its 42-year history. It probably wasn't the reason for the chain passing Burger King, but it obviously didn't hurt. Even McDonald's isn't afraid to mix things up. The fancy coffee and fruit smoothie beverages that BK is adding now seemed daring when they were put on the menu by Mickey D's two years ago.

However, the unoriginal nature of the menu tweaks at a time when franchisees are getting frustrated isn't going to get BK growing again.

You may be stuck with this one, 3G Partners.

This One's for You, Guys

Unlike the family-friendly McDonald's with its Happy Meals or the female-friendly Wendy's with its signature salads, BK has targeted young male diners.

Roll past the drive-thru menu and snapshots of multi-patty burgers tempt young carnivores who aren't watching their waistlines or cholesterol counts like their fathers must.

However, the competition for these taste buds is intensifying. Virginia's Five Guys is opening hundreds of new locations a year. West Coast icon In-N-Out Burgers is taking baby steps eastward, expanding into Texas last year. If you live in a major metropolitan city, you're probably within range of at least a half-dozen gourmet burger joints that have opened up in recent years. All of these concepts are angling for the BK diner looking for a better-quality meal.

BK knows that this may be it. If its new menu doesn't help it woo the steadier traffic numbers that McDonald's and Wendy's have been pulling over the years, this may be the end of the line.

Burger King is also turning to an ambitious store makeover to refresh its brand, but that will require getting franchisees to buy in. In an effort to get store owners to commit to the new plan, BK is offering a 50% discount on the annual $50,000 franchise fee for operators that go through with the remodeling.

Some of the Burger King stores are even starting to add Coca-Cola (KO) Freestyle machines -- the type that are starting to pop up at upscale burger joints -- that let thirsty patrons mix and match dozens of flavored soft drink combinations.

It may not be enough. The market may be too competitive, and the chain itself so stale that even photocopying the Mickey D's cookbook and sprucing up its restaurants may not bring back sales.

Hamburglar have swiped the playbook, but only time will tell if he remembered to take the spectators.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

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Restaurant Brands on Grocery Store Shelves
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Fast Food's Slow Fail: Why Burger King Will Never Be Great Again
It's become more and more common to see restaurant-branded items on your grocery store shelves. But how do the supermarket versions compare to the "real deal" you get at the restaurant? Does California Pizza Kitchen pizza that you buy from your grocer's freezer measure up to what you'd get if you visited your local CPK? How close do frozen White Castle burgers come to their fast food counterparts?

View our gallery as AOL Money & Finance editors review 20 items and give their verdict: weak imposter or worth the money?

First Up: Restaurant Item No. 1
Item: BBQ Chicken Pizza
Price: $12.71
Editor's Review: The molten hot pizza arrived at our table within minutes of ordering and we dug in with much delight. The chicken atop the pizza was juicy and succulent and the cheese mixture of mozzarella and smoked gouda melted in my mouth. My favorite combination of toppings were the red onions and drizzled BBQ sauce. It brought back childhood memories of grilled BBQ chicken in the hot summer sun.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: BBQ Chicken Pizza
Price: $5.99 From Target
Editor's Review: From the look of this pizza out of the box I was disappointed. It looked too small and the toppings were sparse. Where's the chicken?! The end product was delicious and deceptively filling, but it lacked the explosion of flavors that we had experienced in the restaurant.
Verdict: If you're starving and too tired to cook, then this pizza with some home-pimping of spices and cheese will do just fine. But, don't expect restaurant quality.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 2
Item: Turkey medallions with green beans and mashed potatoes

Price: $7.45

Editor's Review: All the food was acceptable quality and tasted good, though the mashed potatoes had a bit of a chemical aftertaste.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Turkey medallions with mashed potatoes, carrots and green beans
Price: $4.29 at Safeway
Editor's Review: Everything looked a little gooey and rubbery, but it actually tasted good. As far as frozen meals go, this was as good as you can expect. The portions were reasonable and the price was pretty good.
Verdict: It's as good as any other fast food and the frozen version stands up to the store-bought food quite well.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 3
Item: Chunky Monkey Ice Cream

Price: $5.76 for 1 pint

Editor's Review: Ben & Jerry's stores have more going for them than getting a pint of ice cream at the grocery store. There are more choices, more sizes, and it has a fun atmosphere. The ice cream itself tasted delicious and didn't melt too quickly. There were plenty of nuts and bananas, and everything tasted great.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Chunky Money ice cream
Price: $3.50 for 1 pint
Editor's Review: The carton was slimy around the seal where the ice cream had spilled over, probably due to getting overheated in the truck while being shipped. However, the ice cream itself tasted exactly the same as from the B&J store. It was harder and more difficult to dig a spoon into. There seemed to be more nuts and bananas.
Verdict: If you're craving Ben & Jerry's and there isn't a store near you, buying a pint from the grocery store works great.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 4
Item: Original Frankfurter
Price: Around $3
Editor's Review: At the original Coney Island stand, my hot dog was delicious and fleeting -- I could have eaten three or four. At a Nathan's Famous franchise restaurant it was a different story. In order to create something more substantial, Nathan's had to tinker with its signature product. The result? A plumper, brinier, hot dog. Some diners might be sold on this, but I'm not. I was unpleasantly tasting this dog for another two hours.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: 16 oz. 8-pack Original Skinless Beef Frankfurters, plus store-brand buns
Price: $4.99 for franks only
Editor's Review: This meal faced a disadvantage, it was my third meal of hot dogs in one afternoon, plus I wasn't enthused by the franchise dog. To my surprise, the store-bought frankfurters were remarkably close to the Coney dog -- insubstantial and modest, just how I like them.
Verdict: I'd go back to the original Nathan's or buy the supermarket dogs, but will not revisit a Nathan's Famous franchise.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 5
Item: Lil' Love ice cream cake

Price: $10.99 (serves 6-8)

Editor's Review: I bought the smallest ice cream cake which had vanilla ice cream, chocolate crunchies in center and icing on top. The store says the cakes are made daily in the store. It tasted very good -- creamy and fresh. Personally, I did not enjoy the icing on top of the cake.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Lil' Love ice cream cake
Price: $11.99 (serves 6-8)
Editor's Review: I was surprised the store cake was more expensive. It was in the same exact box as the store cake. It tasted very similar, but slightly less creamy. This one had both chocolate and vanilla ice cream (the store version had only vanilla) and that may be what accounted for the slight difference in taste. (In the photo at left, the cake had begun to melt.)
Verdict: I would buy it at whichever location was most convenient.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 6
Item: Happy Ending Sundaes
Price: $3.49 each
Editor's Review: You wouldn't think it would make a difference, unless we're talking about super-premium homemade, but ice cream is all about texture. Stored at a proper temperature at the restaurant, the vanilla was creamy and smooth and the mint chocolate chip had a nice bite and good distribution of chocolate. The ice cream was kind of beside the point, however, as the toppings are what it's all about at Friendly's. Their selection has to beat any pantry beside Willa Wonka's.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: 1/2 gal. vanilla & chocolate chip mint
Price: $1.88 each at Pathmark
Editor's Review: There was nothing bad about either flavor, and neither was icy, but both were bland. The vanilla was muted and on its own. The mint had adequate flavor but had very few chocolate chips at the top of the carton, a negative of mass production. But for volume, you can't beat the price.
Verdict: On sale, Friendly's is a fine supermarket buy, but the restaurant is the place to go for a fun sundae.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 7
Item: One Crab Cake (appetizer)
Price: $12.99
Editor's Review: Served with tartar sauce, a tiny salad, a cup of cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, this was a big crab cake, delicious and fresh, not greasy or too fishy tasting. Big flaky pieces of crab, seriously delicious. **Note, this crab cake was much higher quality than the ones served at the seafood buffet ($29.99 for all you can eat) at the restaurant. Those were small, greasier, and not nearly as tasty.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Six Frozen Crab Cakes
Price: $11.99 for six at Costco
Editor's Review: They came in their own little compartments, so were very well-shaped and not frozen together. They looked exactly like the kind in the restaurant, just slightly smaller. I baked/broiled as directed and the crab cakes came very close in taste to the restaurant version.
Verdict: I would definitely get the crab cakes at Costco again, such a great deal. The taste was so similar, they did a great job of getting the same flavor in both versions.
Next: Restaurant Item No. 8
Item: Oreo Cheesecake

Price: $6.25/slice

Editor's Review: The dessert was very creamy with oreos mixed in the cheesecake. It also had an oreo crust and whipped cream on top.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: 12-slice Cheesecake (assorted)

Price: $15.99 at Costco

Editor's Review: The restaurant version had more cheesecake while the supermarket version had a lot more Oreo's in each slice. Also, the store version had less whip cream and slices seemed a tad smaller.

Verdict: If you like a lot of Oreos, then the best bet is the grocery version. I liked them both equally.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 9
Item: Chocolate Chip Cookies
Price: $1.59 for one
Editor's Review: I have a massive sweet tooth. No trip to the mall is complete or satisfying without a stop at Mrs. Fields for a cookie (or two) and a large Diet Coke. Though I normally opt for the M&M version, I went with milk chocolate chip for an apples-to-apples comparison. Mrs. Fields did not disappoint. Though not fresh out of the oven, it was still moist with just the right amount of that delightful chocolatey sweetness I crave.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Chocolate Chip Cookie
Price: $.89 for one
Editor's Review: This wasn't even close. I shared my cookies with our photo editor as a reward for taking these last-minute shots. After the first bite of the store-bought cookie, we split the one I got at the mall and called it a day. As much as I adore cookies, I couldn't finish this one or give it away. It tasted nothing like the mall version and wasn't at all tasty or fresh.
Verdict: The store-bought version is one very yucky cookie.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 10
Item: Hamburger

Price: $.70 each

Editor's Review: The burgers were typical fast food burgers only much smaller. The buns of the burger maintain a nice fluffiness that makes them look appetizing. The standard burger comes topped with onion pieces, ketchup and a pickle. (The onions are barely noticeable.) The patty adds a texture that makes each burger feel like more than just dressed up bread.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Frozen box of 6 hamburgers
Price: $4.79 (or $.80 each)
Editor's Review: They look like a hungover version of a restaurant burger. These burgers lackthe pickle and ketchup of their counterpart and therefore much of its flavor. In fact, the only flavor comes from the bread, which tends to bemysteriously hard in random spots, like it has gone locally stale.
Verdict: The frozen burgers are no trade for the real thing, but if you have ketchup and sliced pickle you can get pretty close. At either place, you aren't going to get a beefy flavor.
Next: Restaurant Item No. 11
Item: Mozzarella Sticks

Price: $6.89 for six

Editor's Review: The appetizer slices were large. They tasted delicious, crunchy outside and gooey cheese on the inside with a strong basil tomato dip.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Mozzarella Sticks

Price: $6.99 for 21

Editor's Review: The store-bought version gives you 21 smaller slices (thinner slices and not as wide as the restaurant version). They cooked well and tasted the same, but the tomato basil dip was different.

Verdict: I'd rather buy the grocery version because the price value in the end is stronger.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 12
Item: Latin American Blend

Price: $2.12 for 12 fl. oz.

Editor's Review: No matter what I order from Starbucks, I need at least a couple shots of half-and-half to temper the bitter flavor and cool it off a bit. The coffee is still strong -- but in a good way.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Colombia Medium Latin America ground coffee
Price: $9.99 for 12 oz. bag
Editor's Review: used the same amount of coffee grounds as I always do (and I don't make weak coffee), but the strong, stout, "wake up!" flavor just wasn't there. Maybe I needed to double the amount of grounds. Or maybe part of the "taste" of Starbucks coffee is getting it there and paying $3.
Verdict: I'm going back to Maxwell House.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 13
Item: Large Drip Coffee
Price: $2.19
Editor's Review: Unfortunately, buying coffee these days is more about the atmosphere and the experience than it is the good old cup of joe. Dunkin' Donuts keeps it real with its tasty drip coffee and fried dough aromatherapy. Which leads me to this, you can't just buy the delicious coffee at Dunkin' Donuts without purchasing donuts as well! The drip coffee tastes robust on its own, but paired with a chocolate glazed donut -- heaven!

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Medium Roast, Whole-bean
Price: $7.99 for 12 oz. bag
Editor's Review: Brewed at home, using our French press, the coffee was both aromatic and pleasant to the palate. We enjoyed many cups with our Sunday paper at a fraction of the price.
Verdict: If I'm looking for an excuse to buy a donut or 12, then Dunkin' Donuts coffee from a franchise store is the sure winner. If I'm looking to "economize" my coffee spending habit, then the Dunkin' Donuts coffee made at home will surely fit the bill.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 14
Item: Hot Wings

Price: $13.99 for 20 wings

Editor's Review: The hot wings I ordered weren't really spicy, but they were fresh and hot temperature-wise. They were tangy and flavorful, but didn't have the kick I'm used to when ordering hot wings at other restaurants. The wings had a satisfying crunch on the outside and were tender and juicy on the inside.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Hot Wings & Sauce
Price: $4.99 for sauce, $6.49 for 4 lbs. of chicken wings, $11.48 total
Editor's Review: The sauce flavor tasted the same as from the restaurant, but the wings I made were nowhere near as good. The sauce didn't soak into the chicken and it just congealed on the chicken. I could barely eat them.
Verdict: The restaurant is the better choice here by far.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 15
Item: Breakfast Sausages

Price: $2.39 for 3

Editor's Review: These sausages were nicely browned, but somewhat greasy. They were mild and tangy, and not very smokey.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Breakfast Sausages
Price: $5.19 for 12
Editor's Review: While the sausages were slightly greasy and burnt, that is almost certainly due to the cook's incompetence, and not the product. They were mild, as breakfast sausages go and more sweet than smokey.
Verdict: The home-cooked sausages were nearly identical in flavor to their restaurant counterparts.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 16
Item: Coconut Shrimp

Price: $14.95

Editor's Review: Served with orange marmalade horseradish, mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables, the six large plump shrimp were perfectly fried. They were very tasty and fresh. The sauce was great, but I wished there was more. I ran out after eating a few of the shrimp.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Coconut Shrimp

Price: $6.99 for 8 shrimp

Editor's Review: The shrimp were smaller than the restaurant version. They didn't get as crispy and were actually a little mushy. They smelled great, but only tasted okay.

Verdict: Skip the supermarket and head to the restaurant -- it had a cool theme, fun atmosphere and friendly staff.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 17
Item: Margherita Pizza
Price: $12
Editor's Review: It was a small, personal size pie cut into 6 small slices. Lifting a slice to my mouth, my nose received the first hint of what was to come. The multiple cheeses together created a wonderful combination for both my noise and finally my mouth. The basil and tomatoes were fresh and tasty. The crust was great ... not too thick, not too thin. It was a great pizza and you can't beat a wood-fired oven.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Frozen Margherita Pizza
Price: $7.19 at Whole Foods
Editor's Review: Compared to other frozen pizza brands, Wolfgang Puck's are more expensive and smaller. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in taste. The toppings were large, sliced and not overly-processed. Crust was OK and not too doughy.
Verdict: For a frozen pizza is was pretty tasty, but pales compared to the restaurant pizza pie.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 18
Item: Original Glazed Donut

Price: $.89 for one

Editor's Review: It was interesting to watch the donuts being made and traveling along a conveyer belt inside the dount shop. Good, fresh and very sweet, the original glazed Krispy Kreme donut is always a good choice.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Original Glazed Donut
Price: $3.19 for box of 6
Editor's Review: Donuts are sold in packages (boxes or bags). As you might expect, the Original Glazed was not quite as fresh and the glaze was a bit sticky and droopy.
Verdict: The store-bought donut was good if you need a sugar fix, but they can't beat the freshness of a newly-made donut from the Krispy Kreme shop experience.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 19
Item: Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Price: $3.69 for 8 oz.

Editor's Review: Even on a humid 90-degreeday, this soup was enjoyable. It was very creamy and thick, and had a rich cheese-y taste. In addition to the fine bits of broccoli there was a few shards of carrot. It was very flavorful and delicious.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Price: $8.99 for (2) 20 oz. tubs at BJ's
Editor's Review: It looked very watery pouring it from the saucepan into the bowl. Once prepared, it was still much, much less creamy. It was not thick and lacked any of the cheesy richness of the "real deal." Also, oddly the carrots were much more pronounced, not in number, but in taste. I could definitely taste the carrots in this version. It was very bland and run-of-the-mill.
Verdict: I would definitely order the soup at Panera again. I would not buy it at BJ's.

Next: Restaurant Item No. 20
Item: Black-Eyed Peas

Price: $3.50 for side dish

Editor's Review: This mellow, filling side dish is somewhat bland, but a satisfying companion to the Queen of Soul Food's famous fried chicken or zesty bar-b-cue ribs. When visiting New York City, this venerable Harlem institution is well worth a trip uptown.

Next: How Was the Grocery Version?
Item: Black-Eyed Peas
Price: $1.49/can at Pathmark
Editor's Review: The canned beans have a smokey barbecue tang and a little hot sauce kick. Quite tasty with much more flavor than the restaurant version, even if it is just to mask a hint of tinniness.
Verdict: I will definitely buy the canned black-eyed peas again for family dinners -- my son loved them -- as well as visit the restaurant on special occasions.

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