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McDonald’s vs Burger King

fast food, retail, burger king, macdonaldsWhile the West is all but saturated with quick service restaurants, the Middle East looks like a potential haven: increasing demographics, major purchasing power, Westernization of dietary habits and more importantly, a huge number of singles (mostly males) working long hours and inclined to consume ready-to-eat food. No wonder the fast food industry has been enjoying a double-digit growth rate in the region for the past five years.

Burger King, which paved the way back in 1992 with a first location in Saudi Arabia, has over 200 restaurants in the region. McDonald’s, the global leader, also opened its first restaurant in Saudi Arabia, only a year later. It now has over 230 outlets throughout the Arab world, with 173 in the six Gulf states alone. It plans to open more than 10 new restaurants here annually if its steady growth continues.

But occupying space and serving the famous Big Mac or iconic flame-grilled Whopper is not enough anymore. Since the start of repeated boycott campaigns against US goods and services, selling an American brand is not a comfortable place to be in the region.

Make it local

Things got so bad McDonald’s - a symbol of the US global influence if there ever was one - even announced plans to shut down several operations in the Middle East in 2002. One of its Saudi outlets was even burnt down. Today, still treading cautiously, the brand quietly stresses the fact that all its Arab restaurants “are independently owned and operated by local partners from each individual market”. Its website goes further, insisting “all partners in the Middle East are the 100% owners of their business”.

In fact, McDonald’s is operated in the region through a network of franchisees, dubbed “developmental licensees”, such as the Emirates Fast Food Corporation in the UAE.

Burger King, which has never suffered the same degree of ire, has one master franchisee for the Middle East and North Africa. Hana International, a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Olayan Group, takes care of business.

Similarly, both chains insist they are now thinking in terms of sustainable development: most of their supplies are of local origin thus, according to McDonald’s, “helping the local suppliers in improving their production and quality standards. Since the day McDonald’s was introduced in the region, some suppliers have even doubled their production.” It claims 80 per cent of ingredients now come from within the Middle East, mainly from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.

McD’s says it makes sure the public knows that most of their employees are also locals who are “offered a chance to learn from the most successful quick service restaurants in the world and from the most powerful brands ever created.” Presumably they mean ‘locally-born Filipinos’.

Last year, both brands started a general revamping operation of its sites and menus, and since, McDonald’s has even been providing consumers with back-of-house tours in order to fight negative media coverage by educating consumers about its food preparation methods.

Make it healthy

The two fast-food heavyweights have taken the brunt of global criticism of bad diets and super-sized portions. The Middle East, where obesity rates are exploding, has been no exception. They already had to deal with local religious sensibilities, offering exclusively 100 percent pure Halal beef, with Burger King even calling hamburgers “beefburgers” not to allow any association with pork. In 2004, the world’s #2 had also hit a local soft spot by launching a Seafood festival in the UAE, offering shrimps and fish tenders among other things.

Today, McDonald’s and Burger King are competing on the healthy dieting front. In 2005, Burger King’s “Have it your way” new campaign meant to give customers a variety of healthier options for portion size, cooking method and menu choices. Since 2007, McDonald’s has been moving to a more responsible approach too, offering only water and juices with children’s Happy Meals and planning to devise more salads and chicken items. In the middle of a general remodeling based on a new ‘zoning’ strategy and the launch of new McCafés, McDonald’s hopes to move towards casual dining instead of fast food production.

But the two leading fast food chains should remain cautious: when, according to Gulf News, Burger King hikes up prices by 15 to 30 percent over the past few months whereas McDonald’s is still considering a price raise allegedly due to global prices increases, customers - who have shown they can be very critical - may not follow them there, especially since, according to market research company IMES, chicken-focused competitors are more popular than they are.

Neither is best

For many, the choice between a Big Mac and a whopper is one mainly of taste and convenience. According to, which compared McD, Burger King and Wendy’s, 47 percent of the around 20,000 people said that ate at McD’s most often, almost 20 percent said they most often ate at Burger King and 24 percent landed often at Wendy’s.

But when it came to preference, 29.7 percent preferred Mc Donalds, 22.6 percent preferred Burger King, and surprisingly, 36.1 percent found Wendy’s to be their preferred restaurant.


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