August 28, 1997
Burger King Will Unveil Rival to Big Mac
By GLENN COLLINS
Burger King is preparing to unleash a Big Mac attack of its own.
On Thursday, the company will trumpet the introduction of a version of the
signature Big Mac burger of McDonald's Corp. To be called the Big King, it
will be available Monday at all 7,277 Burger King restaurants in the United
As might be expected, the Big King has two all-beef patties, special sauce,
lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame-seed bun.
Faced with this challenge, McDonald's is not about to be dethroned without
a fight. It has laid the groundwork to strike back at Burger King by
test-marketing its own version of Burger King's flagship Whopper. Called
the Big and Tasty, it has yet to make its national debut.
The hamburger wars are intensifying as growth has slowed and impulse
diners' restaurant options have expanded beyond fast food to lower-priced
casual-dining chains and prepared meals from supermarkets and
delicatessens. To grow, burger chains must now try to gain sales at each
By offering more variety on its menu board, Burger King has been gaining
market share, in part by poaching customers from McDonald's, whose own
market share has been declining as its new product introductions flagged.
A recent promotion by McDonald's, in which it cut prices on some sandwiches
to 55 cents, was dropped after it failed to generate big increases in
business. It is too early to tell whether the aggressive Big King
advertising campaign -- planned weeks ago -- will erase the recent adverse
publicity when Burger King and other companies recalled potentially tainted
beef from a plant in Nebraska.
As for the new Big King, its patties are flame-broiled, and each weighs 2.8
ounces, instead of the grilled 1.6-ounce patties in the Big Mac, which was
first introduced in 1968.
And what of Burger King's special sauce? It is King Sauce, of course,
presumably mixed from different ingredients than McDonald's secret,
proprietary Big Mac sauce.
The introduction of the Big King shows that "bigger burgers are back," said
Ron Paul, president of Technomic Inc., a restaurant consulting company in
Chicago. "Calories and juiciness are in."
In an introductory promotion, the Big King will cost 99 cents until Sept.
14; the Big Mac costs an average of $1.98 nationally. Presumably, the Big
King will be priced competitively after the introduction.
A $20 million national television and print advertising campaign for the
Big King will begin this Sunday, the day before the sandwich will become
available. Television advertisements feature the theme "Get Your Burger's
Worth" and they assault the Big Mac with such tag lines as "Get ready for a
new taste that beats the Big Mac." The campaign was created by the Ammirati
Puris Lintas unit of the Interpublic Group in New York.
Some of the campaign's print ads boast of the Big King that "it's like a
Big Mac, only it has more beef than bread." Other ads assert that the Big
King is "just like a Big Mac, except it's got 75 percent more beef. And
But Charles Ebeling, a spokesman for McDonald's, said, "There is only one
Big Mac and nobody else can sell one."
"Nothing else has the taste of a Big Mac, which is more than the sum of its
parts: it's a brand that is the gold standard of hamburgers," he declared.
Burger King's new Big King advertising foray will certainly be more
celebratory than its last campaign -- a full page in newspapers Monday
headlined, "A Letter to Our Customers About Hamburgers, Food Safety and
The advertisement sought to reassure customers that Burger King's beef was
safe after meat containing potentially deadly bacteria was traced to a
Hudson Foods Inc. plant in Nebraska, a supplier of about one-fourth of
Burger King's restaurants. Burger King recalled the meat and severed its
contract with Hudson Foods. Hudson Foods said Wednesday that it had agreed
to sell the plant to IBP Inc. for an undisclosed amount.
Jim Watkins, senior vice president for marketing of Burger King, a unit of
Grand Metropolitan PLC of Britain, said that "the unfortunate incident is
behind us," adding that the new Big King advertising campaign "will be
great for inserting in consumers' minds the idea that we're the best place
to go for a quality burger."
The Big King is the first permanent new menu item other than breakfast food
since Burger King introduced its BK Broiler chicken sandwich in 1990.
According to some analysts, sales rose as much as 10 percent during test
introductions of the product in the last two years under the name Double
"We are hoping and expecting that the Big King will increase our sales,"
Watkins said. "When we ran it as a promotional product, it did not
cannibalize the sales of our other burgers."
The Big King "gives Burger King more menu variety," Paul, the consultant,
said, "and it's a defensive move against McDonald's, if it intends to
launch its version of the Whopper," he said, referring to the quarter-pound
Burger King, introduced in 1957.
McDonald's has been testing its Big and Tasty, a quarter-pound hamburger
with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise, in California.
"I wouldn't call that a Whopper," Ebeling of McDonald's said. He also said
that the company had no immediate plans to discontinue another
quarter-pound burger, the Arch Deluxe, which has failed to build sales as
much as hoped since its introduction in May 1996. "We are taking a hard
look at the price of the Arch Deluxe," Ebeling said, adding that "at $2.29,
it's our most expensive hamburger sandwich."
The Arch Deluxe is served on a soft potato-flour roll with ingredients that
include a beef patty, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, a "secret sauce" of
mayonnaise and two mustards and an optional slice of bacon.
Last year, McDonald's had a 41.9 percent share of the $36 billion fast-food
burger market, a decline of four points from the previous year, according
to Technomic Inc. Burger King's share increased a point, to 19.2 percent
last year, and Wendy's increased three points, to 11 percent.
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