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MORE BEEF FOR YOUR BUCK

Fast-food rivals' recent addition of double cheeseburgers to dollar menus raises the stakes.

If you want to stretch your dollar without shrinking your appetite, you're in luck.

Fast-food companies, looking for a way to attract budget-conscious customers and keep them spending, are increasingly offering more food for less money.

Jeffrey Davis, president of restaurant research firm Sandelman & Associates, said adding bigger, higher-quality sandwiches to dollar menus allows fast-food restaurants to give people the premium sandwiches they want at a price they can afford.

But with commodity prices rising, lowering the prices of fast-food sandwiches could squeeze margins, especially if it doesn't lead to better traffic and sales. The chains say the drawbacks don't outweigh the benefit of offering more value to customers dealing with rising prices and a weak economy.

Perhaps the most noticeable example of the more-food-for-less strategy is the appearance on more dollar menus of the double cheeseburger, long a staple of the regular menu and combination meals.

Unlike the value- and dollar-menu regulars, like a small order of fries or "junior" version of a larger burger, the double cheeseburger is a more marquee - and more expensive - choice at most fast food chains.

McDonald's Corp., ahead of the curve on the value menu front, is the exception. Its double cheeseburger has been on the dollar menu since its introduction in 2003 and is one of the chain's biggest sellers. McDonald's touted the "everyday appeal" of the dollar menu in its most recent sales report.

Now a version of the double cheeseburger is appearing on value and dollar menus at the chain's biggest competitors - Burger King Corp. and Wendy's International Inc.

"People are looking for premium items, but there's also a push for value," Davis said. "They're giving you a little bit more for what you pay."

Teenagers - big eaters long loyal to fast food - could benefit from an expanded value menu, said Deutsche Bank economist Joe Lavorgna.

Wendy's International Inc. introduced a 99-cent double cheeseburger last month called the Stack Attack coinciding with a national advertising campaign.

The push toward offering more quantity for less money is extending beyond the burger chains. Yum Brands Inc.'s Mexican-style restaurant chain Taco Bell is promoting its Gordita Supreme product - one of the largest menu items - for 99 cents this month.

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