Did Somebody Say McCopycat? BK Emulates McD's Menu

Big King, Rib Sandwich Seem Like Takeoffs, But Analysts Say It May Be Necessary to Follow the Leader

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Big King is on Big Mac's heels.

Burger King in November released its latest menu item: Big King, made of two beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame-seed bun. That came months after it unveiled its summer menu, which included a BBQ Rib sandwich -- a boneless rib pattie just like the McRib.

It's not unusual for BK to emulate McDonald's menu -- the Big King, in fact, was once a limited-time offer in the '90s, without the middle bun it now has. But BK's recent products appear to be more strikingly similar to McDonald's items than ever.

The Miami-based chain really started to ramp up its Golden Arches-like offerings in early 2012, when it rolled out its biggest menu overhaul, with items like salads and smoothies.

"It seems like [Burger King] is directly going more after McDonald's," said Elizabeth Friend, senior food-service analyst at Euromonitor. She credits it to BK's keeping up with the industry and consumer desire for more healthful options. Since McDonald's has been "driving the whole category strategy," rivals are playing catch up. But, she cautioned, "they're not trying to start a rivalry necessarily."

BK for years went after a narrow target of young males and has more recently decided it needed products and marketing to appeal to a much wider audience, including women and the health-conscious demographics McDonald's was already courting.

Burger King's same-store sales in the U.S. and Canada were up 3.5% in 2012, vs. a 3.4% drop in 2011. McDonald's U.S. comparable sales in 2012 were up 3.3% after 6% gain in 2011. In the third quarter this year, Burger King posted a 0.9% global sales increase, but a 0.3% drop in the U.S. and Canada. McDonald's posted a global sales increase of 0.9% for the quarter, with a 0.7% increase in the U.S.

McDonald's declined to comment on Burger King, and Burger King declined to comment.

The heightened rivalry comes as both chains rework their marketing suite. McDonald's in September announced that its U.S. CMO since 2008, Neil Golden, was leaving; a replacement has yet to be named. In April, McDonald's tapped Steve Easterbrook as global brand officer, a spot formerly held by Kevin Newell, who became U.S. brand officer.

Burger King in June brought on North American CMO Eric Hirschhorn. And in October, Burger King said Axel Schwan would become global CMO, replacing Flavia Faugeres, who will step down at year's end.
Some analysts believe that rather than follow, BK should lead by marketing its biggest asset: the quality perception of a flame-broiled burger. BK "hasn't reached the potential it can or should reach," said Kevin Keller, marketing professor at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

Both chains will offer fewer new products. After Burger King's massive menu rollout in 2012 -- 10 items at once -- executives have committed to fewer with more focused marketing support. McDonald's said at a recent investor meeting that it rolled out too many menu introductions too quickly, negatively affecting operations.

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