By Colleen Scherer, managing editor, AgProfessional


America still likes things big. They like big cars, big houses and big fast-food sandwiches! Big-sandwich lovers are in for a treat. Carl's Jr. announced last week that it is test marketing a foot-long cheeseburger in southern California and Indiana this summer. If successful, the company will launch the new burger nationwide within three to six months.


This burger is already garnering headlines, mostly sensational or critical, before it has even been launched. This cheeseburger features three hamburger patties topped with three slices of cheese, but it can also include lettuce and tomatoes. Priced competitively, Carl's Jr. claims the foot-long cheeseburger fetches $4 without lettuce and tomatoes and $4.50 with.


Carl's Jr. is launching this cheeseburger to compete with Subway's very successful $5 foot-long sub sandwiches. However, the company plans to compete against Sonic, which just added a $2.99 foot-long hot dog this summer and Quiznos, which is looking to offer a line of premium foot-longs early this fall for $5.


The hard-hitting recession has left fast food restaurants raising the bar to compete for dwindling dollars and consumers' spending power. Official unemployment figures show more than 9 percent without jobs, but many more have dropped off the government's radar, so that unofficial unemployment is above 10 percent. Those still working have seen pay freezes and higher bills. In nearly all recessions, the fight for cheaper food is at its strongest. No matter anyone's economic state, everyone needs to eat.


Carl's Jr.'s marketing tactic is obviously aimed at young men aged 18 to 24, which has been the target audience for a majority of fast-food restaurants. However, the low prices cannot be ignored regardless of one's economic income. For example, a few weeks ago, a middle-aged coworker told me he had been eating three double cheeseburgers a day, five days a week from McDonald's because it only cost him $3. He was proud of the fact that he hadn’t spent much money and that he'd found a meal that satisfied him. He is not alone.


Knowing that this type of food is really marketed to youth, it's not surprising that it's not considered healthy fare. Carl's Jr. hasn't made any health claims. This sandwich has 850 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat and that's without an order of French fries or a drink. No, this is not healthy, high quality food. But for some, it will keep bellies full.


Many will consider this new introduction sickening and shameful. However, the one glimmer of a bright spot is that it does promote volume consumption. If this product is successful, it will increase one restaurant chain's demand for more beef, buns, cheese and produce. That just about covers the spectrum of agricultural products: grains, meat, dairy and vegetables. In an economy where ag cannot stand to lose jobs, just like the rest of the economy, increasing demand for these products is a win for agriculture.


Despite how people feel about the healthfulness of such a product, it does maintain demand for agricultural products. Will the farmer see the result in his actual pocket? Probably not.