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Sunday, June 22, 2003

Burgers get the tofu treatment


Staff writer

The recent surge of interest in the health and nutritional benefits of tofu has caught the attention of the largest player in the global fast-food industry.

In an effort to reverse a downward profits trend and shed its image as "a standard-bearer of deflation," McDonald's Co. (Japan) Ltd. has revised its menu, introducing new products that the company hopes will strike a national culinary chord.

Among these, since late April, the new menu offers otofu sando -- the first time McDonald's has used tofu in a patty, and a rare move for any burger chain.

Not that the tofu is dished up solo: It comes in a deep-fried patty with arrowhead and minced chicken, and is served in a bun, with lettuce. Garnished with soy-based sauce, the sandwich's simple taste suits the Japanese palate well. It doesn't taste heavily of tofu, yet it makes lighter fare than the conventional beef patty.

"Our products have got a high-calorie image, so I wanted to come up with something that could change that by using an ingredient that wasn't in our lineup," said Kimihiro Fukazawa at McDonald's marketing division, who developed the otofu sando.

Prior to this initiative, Fukazawa admitted that tofu had never been on the company's radar. But so far management has been delighted with the customer reaction to its 230 yen product which -- even though it is far more expensive than the standard 59 yen McDonald's hamburger -- has been a big draw for female clientele.

The strategy of the new campaign is to make menu innovations every two months, so the otofu sando will soon be a thing of the past. But having dabbled with tofu, which Fukazawa said "was not an easy ingredient to use," he feels more confident of discovering new possibilities for the future. "If I get a chance next time, I want to try something that's even more 'tofu-ish,' " he said.



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