Bigger Proves Better
Deborah Silver
editor, ProvisionerOnline
McDonald Corp. recently announced that, despite health complaints that have cut into the fast-food giant’s European sales, the company is preparing to roll out the Bigger Big Mac in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and possibly other countries.
That sandwich, which contains two patties, will be some 40 percent bigger than the standard 8-ounce Big Mac and will pack close to 700 calories, compared to about 560 calories in the original version, minus the cheese. The Bigger Big Mac will be introduced as part of the World Cup promotion in June, bolstered by a massive advertising campaign aimed at hungry soccer fans.
The introduction of this beefier burger has created an uproar in the United Kingdom, with health experts up in arms and the press weighing in with such headlines as “Stick It Up Your Bun” and “McDonald’s to beef up the Big Mac to fatten UK figures” (that would be financial and otherwise). A professor at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London stated that the Bigger Big Mac “flies in the face of earlier [McDonald’s] promises.” Britain’s Daily Star claimed that the product is McDonald’s way of telling health campaigners “to burger off.”  
McDonald’s counters that its restaurants offer healthier alternatives, such as deli sandwiches and salads, for those who don't want high-calorie, high-fat products. As far as the Bigger Big Mac is concerned, “this is about offering something we know customers love and want to see,” said a McDonald’s spokesman.
More importantly, it’s about customers buying burgers. Because, truth be told, the Bigger Big Mac is all about McDonald’s doing what it does best: selling burgers. Yes, two years ago, the company announced it was ditching its super-size portions in response to concerns about rising obesity, particularly among children. In the United States, the plan included providing healthier Happy Meal options and sending company ambassador Ronald McDonald into elementary schools to push exercise programs. It also included more salads and fruit on the menu. In England, it included much of the same, as well as a toasted deli sandwich designed to appeal to British tastes.
Honorable efforts, indeed, but pointless if they don’t make money, which, after all, is the whole point. In this country, the company’s Dollar Menu burgers are proving the big success story, not its salads. And in England, well, soccer enthusiasts apparently love their meat. Incidentally, McDonald’s contends the Bigger Big Mac is a limited-edition burger, but if it sells well, it’s safe to assume it will be a permanent addition to the menu board.
None of this should come as any surprise to those familiar with the current research on consumer eating habits. Put simply, taste trumps health. Reports from Mintel International, the National Restaurant Association and the International Dairy/Deli/Bakery Association concur that, while consumers may be concerned with what they eat from a health standpoint, they’re not willing to forego taste for fewer calories.
That’s a major factor behind the growth of enhanced meat products both in the foodservice and retail arenas. Indeed, the number of beef products surged 90 percent from 2002 to 2004, and all indications point to continued growth. And steakhouses continue to dominate the restaurant scene, particularly in the white-tablecloth and mid-price sectors, according to the R&I Menu Census. Apparently, if consumers want salad, they’ll ask for it on the side.