Carl's Jr operator proud to bring quality of food and a level of service to poorer areas

CKE Restaurants chief executive Andy Puzder is unapologetic when it comes to the criticism that gets thrown at Carl's Jr, one of the four fast food brands in his California-based company's stable.

Since launching in New Zealand in 2011 the American burger chain has come under fire for its racy advertising, high-calorie-content products and store openings in lower socio-economic areas such as Glen Innes, Takanini and Mangere.

The brand is operated locally by two separate franchisees - NZX-listed Restaurant Brands and Forsgren NZ, which is part-owned by former All Black Michael Jones.

In Auckland yesterday for the opening of Restaurant Brands' latest Carl's Jr store in Queen St, Puzder said he ate plenty of his firm's burgers and, at 63, remained in good health thanks to an exercise regime and lots of fruit and vegetables.


"We're not the food police," he said. "I think people have the right to choose whatever they want to eat."

When Restaurant Brands opened its Mangere Carl's Jr store in November Darryl Evans, chief executive of the area's budgeting service, said the suburb - which has high rates of obesity and diabetes - needed another fast food joint like it needed "a hole in the head".

Puzder, an outspoken Republican Party supporter who makes regular appearances on the right-leaning Fox News channel, said the company did not have a strategy of opening stores in lower socio-economic areas.

In fact, stores in more affluent areas tended to do better than the ones in poorer parts of cities, he said.

"However, I'm very proud when we open restaurants in less affluent areas because we bring a quality of food and a level of service to people that might not be able to afford to go to a higher-level restaurant."

Carl's Jr's advertising aims to grab the attention of the brand's target demographic - hungry young men - through featuring glamorous, scantily clad females including Paris Hilton, Kate Upton and Kim Kardashian.

"We do ads that are cutting edge or provocative because we're not as big as McDonald's and we're not as big as Burger King so the ad budgets are smaller," said Puzder. "[Consumers] have to remember our ads - our ads have to cut through the clutter."

Last month an American-made TV ad for the Carl's Jr Memphis BBQ Burger was banned from New Zealand television after the Commercial Approvals Bureau decided it used sexual appeal in an exploitative and degrading manner as well as using sex to sell an unrelated product.

Puzder said the bureau had done Carl's Jr a huge favour through its ruling, as New Zealanders had flocked to watch the advertisement online after media coverage of the ban.

"Every time there's controversy around one of our ads sales go up," he said. "The more controversial an ad, the more sales increase."

Restaurant Brands chief executive Russel Creedy, whose company plans to eventually open up to 60 Carl's Jr sites, said there were less provocative ads for the chain that would appear on New Zealand television later this year.

Kiwi consumers were outpacing those in the rest of the world in terms of the uptake of Carl's Jr, Puzder said.

He said a Forsgren NZ-owned store that opened in Henderson's Lincoln Rd in November turned over almost $180,000 in its first week of operation - a world record for the brand that operates in more than 20 countries.

CKE Restaurants

• Operates Carl's Jr, Hardee's, Red Burrito and Green Burrito stores.

• More than 3200 restaurants in 42 US states and 27 countries.

• Owned by private equity firm Apollo Management.