A Stone-Cold Sober Appraisal of Tricon's Chicken Bet

A J.P. Morgan analyst has an impeccable record in picking fast-food winners.
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Meet

the Stone

. He's a 25-year-old gourmand whose motto is "if it is cooked, then eat it." If he were a real person, he'd probably wear his baseball caps backward and his flannel shirts untucked. In fact, he's the alter ego of David Linsen, the coincidentally same-aged (but presumably better-dressed) analyst in

J.P. Morgan's

leisure group.

Writing as the Stone (he says it's best not to know the origins of the nickname), Linsen has proven uncannily adept at telling whether a fast-food chain's new product will be an

Egg McMuffin

-esque success or an

Arch Deluxe

-style flop.

Wendy's

(WEN) - Get Report

Monterey

chicken sandwich was one of his more bullish picks -- the company later said the sandwich helped boost sales. He wasn't so enthused about Wendy's mesquite chicken sandwich or

McDonald's

(MCD) - Get Report

bagels, neither of which are exactly setting the culinary world on fire. "If the Stone likes a new product, then good things -- accelerating comps, margin expansion -- usually follow," wrote Damon Brundage, J.P. Morgan's senior leisure analyst, in a recent note. "If the Stone does not like a new product, then that product is, in all likelihood, destined for an ignoble death."

The Stone's latest mission has been assessing

KFC's

new chicken-sandwich lineup -- an exhaustive task, since the unit of

Tricon Global Restaurants

(YUM) - Get Report

has launched five sandwiches at once. But he's tasted all of them, and the verdict is in:

  • Triple Crunch Zinger: "Now this is a chicken sandwich," the Stone wrote in his note, rhapsodizing about the fiery sauce (he claims he thought about it for an entire weekend) and three crispy chicken strips. Only drawback: the mess.
  • Honey BBQ: The Stone calls this disappointing on three fronts: overly shredded chicken, sloppy sauce and high bread-to-meat ratio. "I would not eat this again," he wrote.
  • Original Recipe: Not as good as the Zinger, but better than the BBQ, says Stone. The Colonel's "mighty" 11 herbs and spices came through, but the dull lettuce and sauce subtracted appeal.
  • Triple Crunch: Uh oh. Unlike its sister sandwich, the Zinger, this version was "the first fast-food product whose very nature really irritated the Stone." It was so irritating that he titled his research note "Why is My Triple Crunch Soggy?" An overly green tomato slice and the chicken's tendency to disintegrate didn't win any points, either.
  • Tender Roast: The Colonel's low-fat entry won good marks, particularly the "tangy, peppery herb sauce that awoke the Stone's soggy taste buds." The wimpy lettuce was the only downer.

Overall, a so-so outlook, says Brundage, who said that while KFC's same-store sales may pick up in September and October thanks to heavy promotion of the sandwiches, it's too soon to tell how they'll fare in the longer term.

Next up for the Stone:

Taco Bell's

Chalupa

and Wendy's new bacon cheeseburger. Despite his record, he insists he's feeling no pressure.