Lobster and Caviar Burgers? Wendy's Menu Goes Upscale in Japan

Lobster Surf & Turf Burger and the Premium Caviar & Lobster sandwich. (Wendy's)
Lobster Surf & Turf Burger and the Premium Caviar & Lobster sandwich. (Wendy's)

In the U.S., Wendy's (WEN) serves such signature items as fresh, square ground-beef patties and the Frosty. In Japan, where the fast food chain is looking to expand, it's adding decidedly more upscale fare to its menu -- namely, lobster and caviar.

The Lobster Surf & Turf Burger and the Premium Caviar & Lobster Sandwich will be offered for a limited time at Wendy's Tokyo locations -- one in the fashionable Omotesando neighborhood, home to many luxury shops, and a second opening Aug. 17 in the Roppongi Hills complex.

"Each sandwich is priced at ¥1,280 or approximately US$16.28," reports Burger Business. "Or go big (¥1,580/$20.11) for the Garden Sensation salad with lobster and caviar." The dishes use Omar lobster meat imported from Canada.

"These premium specialty sandwiches are really designed for the Japanese consumer," explains Bob Bertini, a Wendy's spokesman. "We have a joint venture in Japan and as part of that we have kitchens that help design sandwiches that make particular sense for that market."

Wendy's japan
Wendy's japan

"Seafood is a huge part of Japanese culture and diet, and this just makes sense."

The Japanese restaurant market is intensely competitive, Bertini said, "and this is a way to help differentiate ourselves from other chains in the country." He added that there are no plans to introduce a similar sandwich line in the U.S., where Wendy's entrées don't tend to top $5 or $6.

Wendy's left Japan 2009, and reentered in December 2011 with a new slate of ritzy offerings, including a $16 burger topped with foie gras and truffle sauce.

The company's joint venture partner in Japan is Ernest Higa, a Hawaiian-born businessman who previously introduced Domino's Pizza (DPZ) to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Says Bertini, "He was a pioneer of the Japanese home delivery market, so he has lots of experience from a food standpoint in Japan. He knows what has worked well in the past and where the trends are going."

"He really has, in terms of sandwiches, something that no one else has."

In a 2010 interview with Columbia Business School's Chazen Web Journal, Higa explained his entrepreneurial philosophy: "I have a basic bias that most successful concepts or products in the United States have a chance to be successful in Japan -- but you have to adapt it for the Japanese marketplace." Higa recounted how he took an established U.S. chain, Domino's, and made it work in a country where, according to conventional wisdom, pizza had little chance of catching on.

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"There were other U.S. pizza chains that were already in Japan that were not succeeding," Higa said, "because there was an issue of taste profiles or how it was done. And I felt that if you adapted it right, it could succeed."

"The business model was proven. What's important is to maintain that business model but adapt the food itself for the Japanese taste and the Japanese profile."

Presaging his approach to Wendy's, Higa turned Domino's pizza into more of an upscale commodity, customized for Japanese tastes. He offered toppings like squid, tuna and teriyaki chicken, "which you wouldn't even think about in the United States." And he changed what he called "the market positioning," increasing prices and upgrading the product, transforming a mass market business into a gourmet brand.

Higa added that a product's life cycle in Japan is very short, requiring the constant development of new innovations. "The Japanese consumer, as compared to the U.S., they want higher quality, higher service, generally speaking, and they also want variety."

"It's an affluent economy and a very sophisticated consumer" -- which explains the lobster, caviar, and $20 price tag on that salad.

Wendy's, "along with competitors such as McDonald's (MCD) and KFC owner Yum Brands (YUM), is betting heavily on foreign expansion," reports the LA Times.


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