Friday, August 28, 2009

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! vol. 33

A finger-lickin' controversy

By Christopher Burbach

It seems like a college freshman's dream — a sandwich made of two original recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken breast filets, two slices of cheese, two pieces of bacon and something called “Colonel's Sauce.” And no bun.

Well, it's real. And Omaha, which is trying to work its way off the lists of fattest cities and into the ranks of fittest cities, is one of only a few places where you can buy one.

KFC calls the novelty item the Double Down. It has been available for more than a month in Omaha and several other Nebraska cities, plus Providence, R.I., the second test market.

By Wednesday, the Double Down began really catching national attention — from critics of its goopy girth as well as from fans of its goopy goodness.

“KFC is used to creating buzz with new product introductions, although it's not as common for items that are just in test,” said Rick Maynard, a KFC spokesman. “Clearly, a ‘chicken sandwich that is so big, we didn't have room for a bun' is an item that is generating a lot of buzz.”

That “so big” line is used in a television commercial that has aired in Omaha. And although Colonel Sanders and his boys make the bunless sandwich finger-lickin' good, for tidiness' sake it's served in a paper wrapper.

People seem to be either mortified or enticed by the concept.

A husband and wife eating Double Downs at the KFC near 132nd Street and West Center Road declared them “awesome” and “mouth-watering.” The restaurant's general manager, Gene Bell, said they're a popular item.

“We're getting a lot of positive feedback,” he said. “They think it's a good-tasting product, and it's something different.”

I tried one for lunch Wednesday, with no fries or pop. It was as it looks: tasty and fatty.

Out of curiosity, I had my cholesterol and triglycerides checked at a Creighton Medical Associates Clinic before lunch and three hours afterward, without having anything else to eat or drink.

Blood fats called triglycerides shot up from 136 to 213. HDL cholesterol, the good kind, sank from 50 to 39. Non-HDL cholesterol, the bad kind, went up from 144 to 154.

Those were significant changes from a single sandwich, said Dr. Scott Shurmur, a cardiologist and the director of the Lipid Clinic at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The effects of eating one such sandwich should wear off in about a day in a healthy person, he said. But regular high-calorie, high-fat consumption would take a toll.

“Every point your HDL drops, your heart disease risk goes up 10 percent,” Shurmur said.

Kerri Peterson, executive director of Our Healthy Community Partnership in Omaha, said the sandwich sounds tasty. But too much of such might not be just what the doctor ordered for a city trying to get fit.

“It's not about cutting everything decadent out of your diet,” she said, “but maybe eat half of it.”

KFC isn't saying why Omaha was chosen as a test market or what kind of feedback it is getting.

The company estimates that the Double Down has 590 calories, with 280 of them from fat. It has no trans-fats, Maynard said.

The sandwich may seem to run counter to a KFC campaign launched this spring for lighter grilled chicken menu items. Asked about that, Maynard said, “KFC is proud to offer our customers a lot of choices — from better-for-you grilled options to more indulgent products.”

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