The Rise and Fall of the Burger King Meatloaf Sandwich
Looking back at the Flavorful History of a Fast-Food Folly
In 1993, my family had already been enjoying Burger King’s table service whenever we could. It was an affordable dinner out, and it felt just a bit more special when someone delivered food to you. If that wasn’t fancy enough, they also added dinner basket service to the mix. This little bit of extra classiness was enough to convince my grandmother, long a hold out from our fast food visits, to join us. When she did, she ordered a new and unconventional offering from the King, a Meatloaf Sandwich.
While almost forgotten now, the Burger King Meatloaf Sandwich made a splash when it was first released. Print ads and commercials ran in most major markets. When you went into any restaurant they had signage promoting their new creation and a fast food loving nation decided to give it a try. Sadly, for the most part, they didn’t order it again.
Introduced in March 1993, the Meatloaf Sandwich consisted of a meatloaf patty served on a long soft sesame seed bun, ketchup, and raw onions. It was an appeal to older patrons who wanted something different from the standard burger. With the ability to substitute a baked potato or green salad for a french fries, it really did feel like more of a “sit down” restaurant meal.
Being a fan of meatloaf when it is served at home, I decided to follow my grandmother’s lead and try the sandwich early in its availability. It was okay. I remember making a stink about not liking raw onions and taking them off, complaining the whole time that they should have warned me that they were there. The patty was thicker than a standard burger, and the texture was somewhere between homemade meatloaf and a burger. The flame broiling was nice, but it also made it taste more like a standard burger. It was my first and last time ordering one. It just didn’t feel different enough from a burger to make any impressions on me.
Burger King did try to stir up awareness and excitement for their new offerings as part of their BK TeeVee ad campaign. They did multiple ads, one of course, starred BK TeeVee superstar Dan Cortese. The commercial has a very strange tone. It tried to discuss a more traditional food offering in an aggressive manner. I wasn’t sold.
Maybe I wasn’t alone in thinking that the Meatloaf Sandwich needed a different type of spokesperson. Burger King must have felt the same way and brought in Mr. Baseball and star of Mr. Belvedere, Bob Uecker to help. The commercial is in the same style as all the other BK TeeVee ads, but for some reason, I believe that Bob would actually order the Meatloaf Sandwich Dinner basket.
Unfortunately for Burger King no amount of clever advertising could convince enough people that this new sandwich was better than their traditional offerings. So by early 1994, less than a year after it was introduced, the Meatloaf Sandwich was discontinued.
The sandwich, as well as the dinner baskets, were a response to a long-running problem at Burger King, loss of market share. For over seven years they had been slipping in market share to rivals like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell. In the year these innovations were introduced, their market share hit a low of 6.1%, compared to 8.7% in 1986.
It’s not like they weren’t trying to fix things. Since 1980, they had moved through eight chief executives. A few months after the launch of the Meatloaf Sandwich, a new CEO was hired, Jim Adamson. His strategy was, “Burger King should sell burgers.”
This meant cutting the menu, as well as shaking things up at BK HQ. When he took the reins, the company had 56 items on their menu, many of which were unpopular with franchisees, who complained that they couldn’t keep up with all the new offering and that it hurt quality. The new approach, focusing on burgers, fries, and soft drinks, was designed to minimize mistakes and boost consumer happiness (and hopefully purchases). While a few people might miss these new creations, fans of the companies traditional offerings were thrilled at this refocusing.
As the story of the Burger King Meatloaf Sandwich comes to a close, it's a stark reminder of the trials and tribulations in the world of fast food. Despite its unique flair, the sandwich couldn't secure a strong foothold in the market, echoing Burger King's broader struggle with falling market shares. This period marked a significant turning point with the appointment of a new CEO, Jim Adamson, whose mantra was simple yet pivotal: 'Burger King should sell burgers.' His strategy led to a pared-down menu, focusing back on the basics – burgers, fries, and soft drinks. This move, though it meant saying goodbye to the Meatloaf Sandwich and other such culinary experiments, was a nod to the classic offerings that had originally put Burger King on the map. In the ever-competitive landscape of fast food, Burger King's experience with the Meatloaf Sandwich serves as a valuable lesson in the delicate balance between innovation and sticking to your roots.
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