Cape Town - Thursday May 9 marks the start of South Africa’s biggest bun fight. In the red and yellow corner, we have the seasoned opponent, McDonald’s, which has been in the country for nearly 20 years. In the red and blue corner, we have newcomer Burger King, making its debut on South African soil.
The business rivalry between the world’s two largest hamburger makers is well known.
Burger King was brought into the country by Grand Parade Investments, and the first store opens its doors on May 9 on the Foreshore.
Burger King South Africa chief executive Jaye Sinclair shows no sign about concern about arriving after McDonald’s and is confident the brand will take off. Sinclair says this is the right time to break into the local market.
By June, an outlet will open in Tygervalley Centre, followed by Cavendish Square. Plans are afoot to open drive-through outlets in the southern suburbs.
The chain will head to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal by January.
The company expects to create 5 000 jobs in the first five years.
“We have a big enough middle class to support a brand like Burger King,” Sinclair says.
While the local market seems saturated with fast-food outlets, Sinclair says: “We believe there is a lot of growth in the market and that our offering will find a lot of traction.”
McDonald’s corporate affairs director Sechaba Motsieloa doesn’t appear to be moved by Burger King’s arrival.
“Everyone has to fight for their place and their own share of the market. We’re at an advantage because we have a 19-year headstart,” he says.
McDonald’s has 177 outlets in the country and serves 7 million people a month. This has given consumers the chance to grow accustomed to what McDonald’s has on offer. People know they can walk into any McDonald’s – whether in Cape Town or New York – and have the same experience.
“That’s what it means to be a global entity,” says Motsieloa.
But Burger King also has some impressive statistics.
Burger King Worldwide president José Cil, who is in Cape Town, says: “Our flame-grilling heritage and our obsession with delivering great-tasting, high-quality and freshly made products set us apart.”
One of the other things that sets Burger King apart is that it has forgone Coca-Cola, opting instead for Pepsi-Cola. And patrons will be offered bottomless cooldrinks with their meals.
Burger King is halaal certified and therefore the bacon Whopper will be missing from its South African menu.
Sinclair says that introducing the bacon Whopper would mean telling Muslim and Jewish patrons that they’re not welcome and that they are discriminated against. Macon, as a replacement, is not yet on the menu, but the option is being looked into.
While it is the flame-grilled beef patty that is the most popular item on the menu, South Africans want chicken. A variety of chicken, fish and vegetarian options have been included on the menu.
The new kid on the block will not have any impact on the tried-and-tested McDonald’s menu.
Motsieloa says the Big Mac, quarter pounder with cheese, McFeast deluxe and the grilled chicken fold-over are among the most popular items on its menu.
The fact that customers know what to expect, the consistency in service and the quality of food are what keep people coming back.
“We’re quite comfortable with our success. Wherever we’ve opened operations it has been successful, and we don’t expect it to be any different now,” says Motsieloa.
The South African fast-food market is very developed, especially in Cape Town, where people are prepared to spend big bucks on fine dining but demand value for money when it comes to fast food.
There are many fast-food options and much competition, says Motsieloa.
“I think the competition lies in convincing customers that we have something better to offer them.”
What Burger King may lack in its local footprint, it makes up in the restaurant experience.
A group of journalists was invited to have a sneak peek on Monday: the dining areas are pretty standard when compared with other fast-food eateries, but Burger King definitely wins with its entertainment facilities.
The store has four entertainment areas: a basketball court, a PS3 station, a playroom for toddlers and an area equipped with 1 000 Burger King games for small children.
The games include one that involves stepping on digital sheep to send them to a cage; another is a mathematical game that requires children to match equations to answers. Some journalists got them wrong.
A library at the outlet will be launched later this quarter.
Each restaurant incorporates an element of its environment.
For the Heerengracht branch, a mural of Table Mountain and the Grand Parade adorns a wall.
“This store has a family lifestyle environment,” says Sinclair.
Looking around, he adds: “There will never be another one like the flagship.”
Tasting: Whopper versus Big Mac
First up is the Whopper.
I was told that this burger is huge, so naturally I was expecting the hindquarter of a wildebeest on the bun. Imagine my disappointment when I see how flat the patty really was.
However, the same can be said for the Big Mac patties. They should be called Mcflatties.
The Whopper has tons of fresh lettuce, onion rings and gherkins.
The Big Mac has chopped onion, gherkins and cheese.
By just looking at them, the Whopper does appear to have a wider circumference than the Big Mac.
Both are served with fries: The Big Mac’s are thin and crispy, while the Whopper’s are thickly cut and crispy.
I find neither of the burgers and fries to be oily.
The Big Mac is well paired with Coke. This combination has been tried and tested and it works.
The Whopper comes with a range of Pepsi, Mountain Dew and 7Up. I chose the Mountain Dew. For taste buds accustomed to Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew, while strangely refreshing, will take some getting used to. That the drinks are bottomless might just help in that regard.
Despite the aesthetics, the real test is in the taste.
Most people probably know what the Big Mac tastes like. It is really good.
But what sets the Whopper apart from the Big Mac is its flame-grilled element. This adds a specific dimension to the taste, and in my opinion it’s this factor that may tip the scales in the Whopper’s favour.
* Burger King was founded in 1954 by James Mclamore and David Edgerton in the US.
It is the second-largest burger chain in the world, and is found in 88 countries, at more than 13 000 locations – serving 11 million customers daily. The Cape Town franchise is the first in sub-Saharan Africa.
Burger King hopes to employ 5 000 people in the next five years. The Whopper, including burger, fries and soda costs R39.90.
* McDonald’s, founded in 1940 by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald, is the largest hamburger chain in the world.
The chain has 34 000 stores in 119 countries, and serves 69 million customers daily. McDonald’s opened in South Africa in November 1995, and operates 177 restaurants, with 7 500 staff.
The Big Mac Meal, including burger, fries and soda, costs R39.50. - Cape Argus