Pretty well everyone has a heard a story about a fast food franchise burger that has defied the vagaries of time and appears as good as the day it was bought, even years or decades later.
In Iceland, where the last MacDonalds store closed ten years ago, the very last cheeseburger and fries that were bought there are displayed in a glass case at the Iceland National Museum. Anyone can view the burger and marvel at its persistence.
And here in Australia, we have an even more remarkable story of the Macdonald’s Quarter Pounder that two Adelaide mates kept for their friend until he returned – 25 years ago! After losing the burger in the back of a family member’s shed, the two friends found it again five years ago and it has since achieved celebrity status, even at one point having a Tinder profile!
But this month, Burger King has turned the narrative upside down, advertising what has been described as either a bold or vile marketing campaign to demonstrate its move away from preservatives in its fresh burgers. The advertisement features a video showing the decay of a fresh Whopper burger over 34 days, with the final image a definitively unappetising food item covered in green, fuzzy mould.
Burger King is hoping it the overt demonstration of its move from artificial preservatives and additives will encourage more burger sales. Certainly, the move reflects general consumer sentiment which has the seen the demand for fresh, unadulterated and organic foods climb exponentially in recent years. The simple fact is that consumers are more sensitive to what’s in their food and demanding transparency with respect to food labelling and quality. And no food companies are immune from it, even the big franchise fast food chains.
While the confronting advertisement has provide a boon for marketing commentators around the world, the real message is far more important – just what is it that consumers want in their food and what do they want to know about it?
It’s important to note at the outset that preservatives aren’t all bad – humans have been preserving food for time immemorial – whether it’s through the addition of salt, sugar, oil or vinegar, fermenting products like salami and small goods or making milk go further by manufacturing long lasting cheese. Additives which help keep food stored for longer have been a critical part of sustaining societies through lean years since the advent of agriculture. And many of those preserved food products – bacon, olives, cheese, salted fish, beef jerky, and so many more, are celebrated culinary staples for many cultures around the world.
However, the use of artificial, or manufactured, preservatives can present serious health challenges, ranging from breathing difficulties, hyperactivity, weakened heart tissue and possible links with increased risk of cancer and obesity. The real issue for many consumers relates to transparency about what is in their food, particularly if they are, or feel they are, at risk from one or more of the potential health risks.
Fortunately, food labelling laws and regulations continue to improve and consumers are increasingly in a position to take direct control over what they purchase based on knowledge. And big end food manufacturers and retailers are catching on – if customers don’t know and don’t trust, they won’t buy.