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Burger King's fast Internet diet

The fast food chain hopes connecting with distributors and suppliers online will improve planning and help cut down on errors.

Next time you sink your teeth into a Burger King Whopper, it may be thanks to the fast food chain's recent foray into virtual food distribution.

The company is bringing a new ordering system to 1,000 of its restaurants during the next three months that will allow franchise managers to purchase food, packaging and other supplies from distributors over the Web.

The company anticipates that the online ordering system will simplify communication with its 13 distributors and 400 suppliers across the United States, each of which have different ordering formats and product codes.

By reducing phone calls and faxes, Burger King and its U.S. purchasing agent, Restaurant Services, hope to reduce ordering errors. They also want to improve planning with distributors and suppliers by analyzing electronic data for trends and problems.

"There are millions of dollars in the supply chain; if they're in the wrong place it can cause problems," said George Hoffman, chief executive of Restaurant Services, which purchases supplies for 8,300 Burger King restaurants in the United States.

Last year, Restaurant Services began pilot testing the system, which is developed and hosted by Internet start-up Amphire Solutions. Restaurant Services' goal is to have at least 5,000 restaurants on the system within two years. The challenge, Hoffman said, is that many Burger King restaurants are not equipped with PCs and Internet access.

Neither Burger King nor Restaurant Services will pay Amphire anything to use the system. But Restaurant Services has agreed to encourage its distributors to adopt the tool. Amphire generates revenue by charging food distributors monthly fees.

Amphire, founded in 1999, was part of once high-flying online business-to-business company Ventro. Since 2000, the company has distanced itself from Ventro, which is now called NexPrise. For example, Amphire no longer uses the company's technology, and NexPrise, which still has a seat on Amphire's board, is looking to sell its remaining stake in the company, Amphire Chief Executive Mark Barnekow said.