Worth Noting

Super-sizing the Quarter Pounder

by Christiaan Mader

McDonald's seeks to improve sales by increasing the size of one of its flagship burgers.

While McDonald’s is shrinking, fighting flagging sales nationally and shuttering more stores than opening them for the first time since 1970, the Quarter Pounder is growing. It’s a modest increase, a mere quarter of an ounce to a quarter of pound, constituting a “whopping” 4.25 ounces of meat. According to CNBC, the move is an attempt to boost sales amid the growing cost of beef. Local franchises can control the price of the burger at individual operations, so it’s yet to be seen how the up-size will affect receipts and customer cost.

The Quarter Pounder was born in 1972, incidentally the same year that Ed Krampe opened the first McDonald’s in Lafayette, and has been a mainstay of the fast food giant’s menu ever since. Your correspondent first ate one some time around 1994. At the time it was symbol of adult eating, a matriculation from Happy Meals to a gut bomb of more mature status. At 10, I was more than capable of devouring one in a “Super Sized” combo and have room left over for an apple pie. I quickly graduated to the double quarter pounder. The same order would now produce a sandwich with an 8.5 ounce aggregate patty size. At an approximately 30 percent reduction of meat weight in cooking, we’re talking a hand-to-mouth iteration of 5.95 ounces. But I digress.

Nationally, burger sizes have increased since the 1950s. One CDC report issued in 2012 claimed the average burger size had tripled from just below 4 ounces to 12 ounces. It’s worth noting that the “poundage” nomenclature used in the Quarter Pounder’s marketing attempts to brag on its size. In 1972 terms, this would make sense. It likely would have been a giant by disco-era standards. But in a world of Baconators, the Quarter Pounder is now on the small side.

Consider that Judice Inn’s standard cheeseburger clocks in at 4 ounces pre-cook, and the recipe hasn’t changed since 1947. Last I checked, everyone who eats there gets two to an order or a double. A constant and unfounded criticism of the Judice Inn burger is it’s size. It’s a wonder of the American appetite that, at one time, the Judice Inn burger would have been in the upper percentiles of burger girth. Burgirth.

McDonald’s new CEO, Englishman Steve Easterbrook, has worked to refresh and reorganize Mickey D’s. Since late last year the company has shed over 300 corporate positions globally, and announced efforts to introduce ecological sustainability to its beef supply chain. Whether that’s too little too late is yet to be seen, but certainly a shake up was long in the running as fast food diner expectations have certainly changed. Fast casual is on the rise, and expectations of quality and choice have become premium for diners over convenience. It’s a brave new world for McDonald’s, and I’m not sure they’re loving it.