An American fast-food chain noted for its raunchy ads and unconventional culinary combinations will launch a front in Australia's burger wars when it opens the first of a planned 300 local stores on Tuesday.
Carl's Jr operates in over 30 countries worldwide and will start serving chargrilled burgers, hand-churned milkshakes and bottomless cups of soft drink at its first Australian store at Bateau Bay, on the NSW Central Coast.
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Carl's Jr opens in Australia
Carl's Jr, an American fast-food chain known for its raunchy ads and unconventional culinary combinations opens its first Australian store at Bateau Bay, on the NSW Central Coast on Tuesday.
It will be the first of about 300 stores to open in Australia over the next 10 years, according to Ned Lyerly, Carl's Jr president of international.
"It's a $16 billion market today and will continue to grow, so I think the market itself is large enough to sustain that sort of operation," Mr Lyerly said.
"We've done extensive research ourselves. We compete favourably with all [quick service restaurants]... and believe with the right partners, that those numbers are meetable."
There are 900 McDonald's and 390 Hungry Jacks restaurants in Australia, meaning Carl's Jr will be taking a sizeable chunk of the fast-food market if it reaches that target.
Mr Lyerly said Carl's Jr offered premium products and that recent efforts by McDonald's to present a more sophisticated menu was it playing catch-up to innovation at his company, such as using Angus beef in its patties.
That translates to a slight price premium, with its flagship Angus Thickburger costing $8.95 – more expensive than a Big Mac ($5.35) but cheaper than homegrown "premium" burger joint Grill'd ($9-$13).
Carl's Jr's burgers also pip McDonald's on fat content.
In the US, a Carl's Jr 1/2lb Thickburger contains 1250 calories and 88 grams of fat – more than twice as fatty as a McDonald's Big Mac, which has 493 calories and 26 grams of fat.
The Thickburger exceeds the Dietitians Association of Australia's recommended daily fat intake for an average adult (70 grams), and is about half the recommended kilojoule intake.
But Mr Lyerly defended the burgers, saying Carl's Jr's target demographic is young, active adults who could accommodate one of the high-fat meals into a healthy diet.
"It's our job to offer customers what they want to eat, whether they're looking for something high-quality, delicious and innovative … or if they want something more healthy, we have that as well," he said, pointing to the menu's low-carb and low-fat options.
Another hallmark of Carl's Jr, which combined with sister company Hardee's has global sales of $US4 billion ($5.6 billion) a year, has been its sometimes questionable creativity.
The Most American Thickburger, released in the US in May last year, for example, combines a beef patty, a grilled hot dog cut in two and a layer of potato crisps.
Other creations have included the Burger Masher, made with mashed potatoes and gravy, the Monster Thickburger (two patties, four strips of bacon and three slices of cheese) and the Flamin' Hot Cheetos Burger – a burger topped with the cheese-flavoured, puffed cornmeal snack.
Like 'soft-core porn'
Carl Jr's target customers are "young, hungry guys", and that hasn't escaped the attention of its marketing department, who have for years churned out ads featuring busty, bikini-clad models.
A 2005 ad featuring hotel heiress Paris Hilton was compared to "soft-core porn" by the Parents Television Council, and reality TV star Kim Kardashian spruiked one of their salads in 2010 with the promise that "the best things in life are messy", while the camera lingered on her cleavage.
Mr Lyerly said the eyebrow-raising ads were enjoyed by people "of all ages" and Australians could expect to see a similar tack in its promotions here.
Carl's Jr restaurants are set to open within the next year at the Brisbane and Hobart airports, while the Bateau Bay franchisee, the BKG Group, has acquired sites in West Gosford, Jesmond and Tamworth for the next three of its planned 20 stores.
The BKG Group is a family business that was the first to sell off-licence alcohol in NSW nearly 30 years ago, and owns BYO Cellars bottle shops.
"We were looking for a bit of diversification and couldn't see much value in most types of retail," BKG general manager Lindsay Brennan said.
"But then we saw that Carl's Jr was looking to move into Australia and so we put in an application."
Mr Lyerly said Carl's Jr chose the Central Coast for its first Australian store because of BKG's strength as a franchisee.
Carl's Jr's parent company, CKE Restaurants Holdings, has 3515 restaurants in 31 countries under the Carl's Jr and Hardee's brands.
The empire was founded by Carl and Margaret Karcher in 1941 with the purchase of a hot dog cart. Carl's Drive-In Barbeque opened five years later, and the smaller format Carl's Jr launched in 1956.
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