The Asian meat industry is receiving some serious worldwide attention right now. Not because of anything productive or positive, but because more than 10,000 dead pig carcasses have been fished out of the Huangpu River that runs through Shanghai.
Even as the carcasses continue to float through an urban area that’s home to an estimated 23 million people, the city’s local government officials insist that water quality in the river, which provides tap water to more than a fifth of the city's residents, has not been affected by the dead pigs.
Go ahead: Take a drink. Water’s fine.
If ever a diversion were needed from the grim spectacle of dead pigs floating through a major city, what could be better than showcasing pork products added to a brand new fast-food burger?
As a Fox News report rhetorically asked, “Don’t have enough meat on your McDonald’s burger? Why not just toss on a couple of sausage links?”
Apparently, that was corporate’s thinking as well, as McDonald’s China launched the Sausage Double Beef Burger (see photo). The new concoction, which is being rolled out in South China, is priced at about 17.50 yuan, or about $2.80.
The sandwich offers patrons of the popular fast-food chain a pair of beef patties topped by two plump sausages drizzled with mustard inside a split top bun.
“We’re guessing Mickey D’s begrudgingly included the bread,” wrote Charisma Madarang, a Toronto-based blogger on FoodBeast (www.foodbeast.com).
According to Madarang, the Sausage Double Beef Burger is similar to a sandwich currently being promoted in Germany called—in a most unfortunate historical reference—“The Nuremburger.”
Indeed, the Nuremburger consists of a beef patty and three German sausages topped with crispy fried onions and mustard sauce. According to McDonald’s Europe, it “brings together two of Germany’s favorite foods: burgers and bratwurst.”
In the midst of the ever-eager effort among leading fast food restaurants to make their menuboards healthier—at least healthier looking, if not actually lower in fat, sodium and calories—it’s comforting to know that a race to see who can serve up more meat and cheese in a single sandwich remains a marketing staple.
Here are a couple recent U.S. examples:
- The Jim Beam Bourbon Burger. Carl’s Jr. & Hardee’s not only launched a potential franchise-boosting brand line with its tie-in to Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon, but garnered media attention for an ad campaign based on the seduction scene from the iconic ’60s movie “The Graduate”—only with supermodel Heidi Klum reprising Anne Bancroft’s role as Mrs. Robinson, in this case using the mega-burger as her objet d’amour. As for the sandwich, the Bourbon Burger features a beef patty topped by crispy onion straws, two strips of bacon, melted pepper Jack cheese and a tangy sauce spiked with “the flavor of Jim Beam.” Suggested retail price: $3.59. Video of Heidi Klum not included.
- The Bacon Stuffed Burger. This newcomer consists of only a single beef patty, albeit one stuffed with both cheddar cheese and bacon. But on the plus side, Burger King’s new offering comes complete with “loaded tater tots,” which are described as “bite-sized, fluffy potatoes stuffed with bacon, cheese, and onions.” Because after all, only one stuffed item does not a complete meal make.
While food critics and nutritionists will denounce these over-the-top burgers—and operators will just as vociferously point to all the light and lean alternatives they now offer—the sandwiches represent less of a marketing innovation and more a variation on the same old theme: Offering hungry, mostly young male customers, lots and lots of calories at comparatively cheap prices.
The only frontier left is figuring out how to stuff the next generation of burgers with the standard fast-food side order—which, should food technologists achieve that milestone, will mark the end of an a classic marketing tactic:
“Would you like fries with that?”
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.