Belfast Telegraph

Burger King swallowed up in whopper purchase

By Margaret Canning, Business Correspondent

"I DIDN'T go in a Burger King," said Vincent Vega (John Travolta) to Jules (Samuel L Jackson) as they sped along in Quentin's Tarantino's cult movie Pulp Fiction talking about the cultural contrasts betrayed in how the French and Americans label their burgers.

It's hard to open a discussion about Burger King's $3bn sale to 3G without thinking about the fast food chain's place in popular culture.

Burger King was swallowed up by the private equity operation yesterday after long discussion - and judging by BK's performance in the recession, Vincent wasn't the only person not to go into Burger King.

Its sales have fallen during the downturn and in the ubiquitous fast-food chain stakes, it has been eclipsed by rival McDonald's, perhaps the Coke to its Pepsi. Pundits have blamed its lack-lustre performance on falling incomes in its main constituency of young men aged 18 to 34, a demographic hit hard by umemployment. Meanwhile the stranglehold on children's affections of a Happy Meal may well guarantee McDonald's evergreen popularity with families.

But BK's recession tales do spark discussion of what forms of fast food and casual dining do go the distance in a recession. Locally we are fond of KFC and McDonald's - though admittedly an office straw poll does spark fond remarks about Burger King's Whoppers.

Interestingly, pizza seems lodged in our affections with south Belfast possibly demonstration there is no saturation point in the market. You can barely twitch a limb on south Belfast's Lisburn Road without eyeballing a newly-minted pizza joint. Beannchor Group's Little Wing chain is thriving in its location next to the Bengal Brasserie while Co Londonderry emperor of ice-cream Morelli's is also doing a brisk trade in its pizza parlour 10 doors away.

Pizza Express and Green's Pizza have been on the road longer and are more than holding their own, with the latter notching up at least a decade on the Lisburn Road.

Their anecdotal success despite economic gloom backs up the experience of Frankie & Benny's owner The Restaurant Group. It said it had seen improved trading since the World Cup.

Burger King franchisees, who run 90% of its restaurants, were told by Alex Behring in a letter yesterday: "We share a common goal to improve the Burger King brand experience for guests at both company-owned and franchisee restaurants, while running a sustainable business on an ongoing basis."

Perhaps Vincent could yet be enticed in...