China Consumer

Filled with fury

Locals unimpressed by McDonald’s ‘China burger’

Roujiamo Combined-w

A typical roujiamo (on the left) and the McDonald’s effort

Despite its reputation for standardising its menu across a limited range of its most popular choices, McDonald’s has sometimes experimented with new offerings in many of its markets around the world.

Many of these new options have been failures. One of the biggest was the 2002 release of McAfrika in Norway. The slice of beef, cheese and salad, all served up in a pitta-style sandwich, was supposedly based on an African recipe. However, the snack’s launch saw McDonald’s blasted as grossly insensitive by Scandinavian consumers, at a time when millions of people were facing famine in southern Africa at the time.

The American fast food heavyweight has just added another failure to its new-launch list: this time in the fickle Chinese food market.

The chain recently unveiled its interpretation of roujiamo (肉夹馍). The three characters in the dish’s Chinese name literally mean ‘meat stuffed in bread’ and the centuries-old meal is sometimes described as China’s closest culinary offering to a burger. The classic street snack is said to have originated in Shaanxi province but it is now a national favourite.

McDonald’s advertising of the “Mcroujiamo” makes the meal look satisfying enough, with a flatbread bun stuffed with shredded meat and Chinese pickles, akin to the delicacy sold by local street vendors. McDonald’s went full tilt on introducing its new menu choice too, promoting the product via a tie-up with the cartoon sensation Nezha, which broke box-office records for animation movies last year (see WiC462).

The seasonal offering started to appear at more McDonald’s outlets in the lead-up to the Chinese New Year next month. But diners have been deeply unimpressed, and taken their disdain to social media.

Many netizens were so nettled, they even argued that the advertisement for the new bun was misleading enough that it might warrant an investigation by the government’s consumer rights bureau.

Leaving aside whether the Chinese-style sandwich is appetising or not, McDonald’s was skewered for the meagre portion of meat. In a video posted on Sina Weibo by one unsatisfied customer, a Mcroujiamo is carefully unwrapped. It is only when the hash brown is pulled apart that two small, sauce-like spots – the shredded meat – become visible.

Other customers who tried the takeout item made the same complaint in lampooning the not-so-generously-filled beef bun.

Hashtags teasing the McDonald’s roujiamo for having very little meat in its filling were soon some of the hottest topics on social media.

“A single pig can provide the meat for McDonald’s to make enough of its roujiamo to encircle the Earth,” quipped one contributor. Stung by the ridicule, the company asked unsatisfied customers to address their complaints to individual stores and ask for extra meat filling to be added to the bun.

McDonald’s major competitor KFC has also tried out new and locally-inspired combinations on its own menus in the past, but typically with greater success. For instance, the fried chicken chain, which is considerably larger than its burger-based rival in China, had a late-night hit a couple of years ago when it started serving hotpot skewers featuring chicken offal between 11pm and 5am (see WiC462).

Meanwhile for McDonald’s regular diners in China this was not their first disappointment in terms of ‘food innovation’. Late last year they were also dismayed by its ‘limited edition’ Oreo Spam Burger, which topped off a processed pork patty with a sprinkling of Oreo cookies, and a slathering of mayonnaise. “It’s not necessary to release all these new products,” went one of the top-rated comments posted to the official McDonald’s weibo announcement. “Can cookies and lunch meat really be good together?” asked another.

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