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Restaurants dangle little burgers to get a nibble

BK Burger Shots

BK Burger Shots

Honey, they shrunk the burgers.

The biggest names in burgers are doling out mini versions faster than you can say recession.

McDonald’s is testing a Snack Wrap Mac. Burger King is pushing BK Burger Shots. Jack in the Box sells Mini Sirloin Burgers. Johnny Rockets offers Sliders.

Never mind that casual-dining chains have peddled mini burgers for years. The new hubbub is about building perceived value, with the tiny burgers often sold in bundles of two, three or even six. But they must be cheap because they’re small, right?

“It’s more the illusion of a deal,” says Scott Hume, editor of BurgerBusiness.com. He adds that it is often cheaper to buy items off a restaurant’s value menu.

But burgers are going mini because chains need ways to keep food costs and consumer prices down during the recession. They’re putting the best face on it by positioning minis as fun food.

Restaurants have to do something to get folks to eat out. The industry, overall, has suffered falling same-store sales for nine consecutive months, with 56 percent reporting the downward trend in February, says the National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group.

But nutritionists warn that downing several mini burgers can outweigh eating one conventional burger, particularly when folks use dips.

“Mini burgers serve up maxi calories, fat and sodium,” says Hope Warshaw, the author of” Eat Out, Eat Right.

“Among the new offerings:

— Burger King. BK Burger Shots come in packs of two ($1.39) or six ($4.09). Two minis show “value” to consumers, and six scream “shareability,” says Russ Klein, marketing chief at Burger King.

The chain also is selling BK Breakfast Shots (ham, bacon or sausage with egg and cheese). And Burger King is considering mini chicken sandwiches, Klein says.

— Jack in the Box. It has Mini Sirloin Burgers in three-packs ($3.89) and is testing chicken minis.

“A lot of people are trying to reduce costs,” and smaller portions help, says Tammy Bailey, vice president of menu marketing.

— McDonald’s. Mickey D’s is testing Snack Wrap Macs, mini Big Macs in flour tortillas ($1.49), at 400 restaurants, says spokeswoman Danya Proud.

— Johnny Rockets. The diner chain has rolled out Sliders, mini hot dogs and mini chili dogs sold in three-packs (prices vary by location). There’s no charge for dips, including chipotle and Dijonnaise. Look this summer for five-packs in which folks can mix mini burgers and mini hot dogs.

“Times are tough,” says marketing chief Tim Gorman. “This is softer on pocketbooks.”

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