The Big Mac Index, compiled by The Economist since 1986, is used to measure purchasing power parity across the globe. The index is named after McDonald’s most popular burger, which is sold in more than 100 countries. But a basic assumption of the index is that the Big Mac is made to identical specifications. And analysis published by the Huffington Post in 2017 suggested that not all Big Macs are the same: the US original has 550 calories versus 510 calories in the Norwegian version, and just 379 calories in Israel, for instance.
Now it turns out many people in China think the burger they are being served is smaller than it used to be too. According to a survey by Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, 58% of respondents complained that the fare from Western-style fast-food restaurants is getting smaller. KFC and McDonald’s are the worst offenders, where 27% and 24% of those surveyed believed that the burgers were subject to ‘shrinkflation’, meaning smaller portions sold for the same price.
“Not sure if the burger has got smaller. All I know is I used to need only one to feel full in the past, but I need three now,” commented one weibo user. “The size of the hamburger is comparable to my fist,” sneered another. “I can finish [a Big Mac] in just a few bites! Am I a pig?”
There were a few outliers, querying their compatriots’ sense of proportion. “The burger hasn’t got smaller, perhaps it’s us getting bigger?” argued another netizen.
McDonald’s denied that its burgers have been downsized, but attributed the impression to slimmer packaging. However, the basic data suggests that the Big Mac is different in calorie terms to its US-equivalent. In Hong Kong, the official McDonald’s online nutrition guide specifies a standard Big Mac to be 496 calories (the most calorific option on offer is the Cheesy Champignon Angus Burger at 644 calories). Across the border in mainland China the Big Mac is reported at 480 calories.
The quibbles about portion sizes at KFC don’t seem to have deterred consumers from eating at the more chicken-focused chain, however. In the first quarter, KFC added 191 new stores across the country, taking the total that its parent firm Yum China operates to 8,653. It also recorded a 5% growth in same-store sales. The Yum Brands spin-off is now part-owned by Fred Hu’s Primavera Capital and Ant Financial. Their rejection of a $17.6 billion takeover bid from Hillhouse Capital Group this time last year pointed to their bullishness on KFC’s China business.
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