ST. LOUIS (AP) — As many fast-food chains are catering to the health-conscious, Hardee's is introducing the biggest and thickest of its Thickburgers — one with enough calories to make Ronald McDonald blush.
The Monster Thickburger has 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat.
The chain on Monday rolled out its Monster Thickburger — two 1/3-pound slabs of Angus beef, four strips of bacon, three slices of cheese and mayonnaise on a buttered sesame seed bun. The sandwich alone sells for $5.49, $7.09 with fries and a soda.
Even a news release touted the Monster — at 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat — as "a monument to decadence." Add fries and a soda and a single meal would involve more calories and fat than most people should get in a day.
"It's kind of like the burger everyone would like to get — but not the one you get all the time," said Brad Haley, vice president of marketing for Hardee's.
The introduction comes at a time when McDonald's, Wendy's and other fast-food giants are offering salads and other lower-calorie fare. Subway advertising has long used patron Jared to tout the low-calorie items on the menu.
Hardee's has gone another direction.
The restaurant, founded in the 1960s, was originally known for its charcoal-broiled burgers, but eventually expanded its menu to include roast beef, fried chicken, even hot dogs.
That changed in April 2003 when Hardee's went back to burgers — and big ones. Sales for the 2,067-restaurant chain have risen steadily since the introduction of the Thickburger family. Same-store sales are up 7.8% this year.
Jerry McVety, president of the restaurant consulting firm McVety & Associates in Farmington Hills, Mich., said Hardee's has found a niche.
"Before, it was difficult to know who Hardee's was and what they stood for," McVety said.
"Now, they're basically filling an area where the big three burger boys (McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's) have deviated from. Maybe this is a smart strategy because there are still folks out there who care about the taste and size of their sandwich, and less about their weight."
Even before the new Monster Thickburger, the chain offered five sandwiches with 1,000 calories or more, and eight overall that have more calories than what was once the big-burger standard — the 600-calorie Big Mac.
The government's Center for Nutritional Policy and Promotion recommends a daily caloric intake ranging from 1,600 calories for sedentary women and older adults to 2,800 calories for teenage boys and active adults.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a advocate for nutrition and health, called the Hardee's line of Thickburgers "food porn."
"Hardee's seems not only oblivious to America's obesity epidemic, but also to the trend toward healthier fast food," CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said. "To those who say we don't need calorie counts on menu boards, I say, 'Have you met the Thickburger?'"
But Saint Louis University professor of nutrition and dietetics William Hart said the occasional Monster Thickburger isn't the problem.
"If you're eating it every day, then you've got some serious questions about your diet," Hart said. "Is there a need for a burger this thick? Well, why not? It comes down to people have to take responsibility for themselves. In moderation, there's no reason you can't enjoy it."
Besides, Haley said, Hardee's has its own low-carb menu options. And in about a month, the chain will introduce a barbecued chicken sandwich on a whole wheat bun with about 300 calories and four grams of fat.
Health trends aside, Hardee's isn't alone in offering big-calorie sandwiches. According to the Web site Fatcalories.com, the Burger King Double Whopper with Cheese has 1,070 calories, the Wendy's Classic Triple 940 calories.
Even Subway has a variety of sandwiches with more than 1,000 calories, including the Double Meat Meatball Marinara Sub. The 12-inch version has 1,480 calories and 76 grams of fat.
"There's another guy wearing Jared's old pants now," McVety said.