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Wendy's challenges McDonald's fries to a taste duel

Fast-food outlet Wendy's has thrown down the gauntlet for a fry showdown with McDonald's, claiming that consumers preferred their fries in a US national taste test.

"We're taking on the giant - McDonald's," said Ken Calwell, Wendy's chief marketing officer in a release.

In a nationwide taste test, Wendy's put their natural-cut fries with sea salt, launched last November, up against McDonald's shoestring potatoes and found that 56 percent of consumers preferred Wendy's over the Golden Arches. McDonald's received 39 percent of the votes, while four percent had no preference.

The results were released this week.

In a candid admission, Calwell acknowledged in a release that Wendy's has never had a national reputation for great-tasting fries. So the company "re-engineered" the recipe last year to come up with fries made from Russet potatoes with the skin on, cooked in a proprietary oil and sprinkled with sea salt. They say that sales for fries spiked 16 percent during the national media blitz in December versus the base period.

The company is hoping to carve out an identifiable niche and market share in an industry where competition is fierce and the Wendy's brand has a tendency to get lost between chains like Burger King, Subway and Starbucks.

Meanwhile, the fry taste test has always been a divisive one, with each fast-food chain boasting schools of devout - and often unflagging - fans.

In last year's annual Zagat reader survey, McDonald's took the top spot for Best French Fries at a fast-food chain, followed by Five Guys, In-N-Out Burger, and then Wendy's. Burger King rounded out the top five.

In 2009, Consumer Reports magazine, meanwhile, gave fries from Wendy's and McDonald's ratings of Very Good for their big potato flavor and crispiness. Burger King received a tepid rating of Good.

Wendy's has 6,500 restaurants around the world.