Friday, February 3, 2017

Lunar New Year Burger Wars in China: Prosperity Burgers, Shrimp Burgers, and (Good) Luck Burgers

Advertisements in Zhongshan, Guangdong, for Burger King's and McDonald's special Lunar New Year burgers

The Lunar New Year in China not only brings a change of zodiac symbols, it also brings the McDonald's Prosperity Burger. Although available in Hong Kong and Macau, this special holiday treat mystifyingly remains unavailable at McDonald's in mainland China.

This year I found myself in Macau at the right time. Normally the idea of eating at McDonald's in Macau, a city with wonderful Macanese and Portuguese delights, would seem sacrilegious. I made an exception this time, though I didn't give up a meal for it. Instead, I took one for the team and had two dinners one night. You're welcome.

Upon entering the Macanese McDonald's, I saw there were four Prosperity Burger options — a choice of beef or chicken and with or without a hash brown.

sign for the Prosperity Burger options at a McDonald's in Macau

Curious to try something new, I went with the chicken & hash brown option.

chicken and hash browns Prosperity Burger

It only took me one bite before asking "Why?" The addition of a hash brown wasn't disastrous, but it also didn't do much for the burger except add intense caloric mass while diluting the taste of the Prosperity Sauce. It struck me as an uninspired way to try to mix things up. Next time, I am definitely going for an option sans hash brown. It will have to wait until next year though.

But that's not the end to this new year burger story. Not even close.

Although the Prosperity Burger mysteriously remains unavailable in mainland China, McDonald's there has a different set of burgers available for the Lunar New Year. For an intro, I will hand it over to Angela Doland in Ad Age:
McDonald's China just introduced intriguing new products for Chinese New Year: the Emperor's Best Shrimp Burger, the Empress' Pineapple Burger and a beverage that translates, loosely, as Smiling Concubine's Lychee Bubble Tea. Names like that beg for an explanation.

To build buzz about the unexpected ingredients, a campaign from Leo Burnett Shanghai tapped into China's passion for historical TV costume dramas. The shows, such as "The Empress of China," starring actress Fan Bingbing, feature elaborate costumes, tales of love and palace intrigue. Playing on that pop culture phenomenon, the agency did a series of surprising cartoon ads with a historical theme, which rolled out on digital channels including ubiquitous mobile app WeChat.

It can be dicey for Western brands to be too literal when referring to Chinese culture, but this approach works because . . .
Read Doland's piece for her thoughts on the promotion's effectiveness and the story behind it. Campaign Brief Asia has a review of three videos which were part of the promotion.

Although I was excited to try the two burger, I ran into an unexpected problem. Many McDonald's I checked didn't have either of the burgers. A couple of days ago at a McDonald's in Zhongshan with only the shrimp burger, an employee handing out flyers featuring the burgers told me they had sold out of the chicken burger at least half a month ago. And another McDonald's confirmed their lack of the items was due to selling out.

flyer for the Lunar New Year special items at McDonald's in mainland China

Regardless of the difficulty of finding the burgers, street-side advertisements for them are still easy to find in Zhongshan. I don't know whether this McDonald's promotion was wildly successful or they only prepared a very minimal number of burgers, but either way there a bit of a problem here.

I never did find anywhere still serving the chicken pineapple burger, but one recent day in Zhongshan I sat down for the shrimp burger set meal.

The curly fries must have been sitting out for a bit and were room temperature. If you imagine sugar stuffed into sugar with lychee flavoring in water, then you have an idea of the lychee bubble tea.

And the burger . . .

McDonald's Lunar New Year shrimp burger in China

A deep-fried shrimp patty topped with deep-fried shrimp is a bit more deep-fried than I would usually go, but I must say it was decent and reasonably shrimpy. I wouldn't need to do it again, but I'm glad I tried it. I would put it above the chicken hash brown Prosperity Burger but not the original Prosperity Burger.

That is all I have for McDonald's, but Steven Schwankert had better luck than I did and reviewed both mainland China burgers for The Beijinger along with explaining the puns in their Chinese names.

But we're still not done, because Burger King is in the new year burger action too with two portobello mushroom burgers.

advertisement for Burger King's portobello mushroom lunar new year burgers in China

The promotion includes the mixed-language pun "菇大 Luck". "菇" means "mushroom". "大" means "big". And together their sound "gūdà" roughly sounds like the English word "good". In case people who know a bit of English miss the pun, Burger King helpfully puts "good" in parentheses above the relevant Chinese characters. On some signs Burger King provides the English names "Grilled Portobello Chicken Burger" and "Grilled Portobello Beef Burger". But I am going to go with "(Good) Luck Burgers".

With that out of the way . . .

In Zhuhai I met my first (Good) Luck Chicken Burger.

A look inside revealed two tomato slices along with the other ingredients.

The results?

Folks, this was one of the best fast food sandwiches I have ever had. Honestly, I was rather surprised. The portobello mushroom wasn't huge, but it was hearty and complemented the grilled chicken well. This is a burger I would happily eat again.

So later at a Burger King in Zhongshan, I figured I had to give the (Good) Luck Beef Burger a try. After opening up the burger, I realized my experience this time might differ.

There was only one tomato slice this time — a travesty. The positioning suggested another was to be added but for whatever reason it didn't happen. Also, the mushroom was significantly smaller than the meat patty.

I found myself less thrilled by this burger. Not only did it have the previously mentioned deficits, but I found the beef and mushroom mix to be less enthralling, though not displeasing, to my tastebuds. I am not sure what to make of that since I enjoy beef and mushrooms together in other dishes. Anyway, I would definitely go with the chicken version next time. Hopefully they don't cheat me on the tomato slices again.

Burger King has other special items available for the new year, such as their Salmon Nuggets with Cheese & Pasta.

It isn't something I would expect from Burger King but intriguing. I felt I had dedicated enough of my meals to fast food for this year's holiday though.

So to wrap up, the (Good) Luck Chicken Burger won this year's fast food Lunar New Year burger prize for me. And all of the burgers far surpassed the Year of Fortune Burger and Year of Luck Burger I subjected myself to two years ago at McDonald's in Chongqing. Kudos to McDonald's for not bringing them back this year. Somehow I missed out on a good old regular Prosperity Burger this year, but I take consolation in having enjoyed some portobellos.

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