McDonald’s Latest Stunt to Lure Back Customers: Gray Buns

The limited-time sandwich is being sold in the burger behemoth’s Chinese restaurants.

(Photo: McDonald's/Twitter)

Oct 16, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Too often these days, “gray” is the word being used to describe Beijing’s smog-choked skies. Now it the unappetizing color has been embraced by McDonald’s there too. The fast-food giant is offering consumers across the Asian nation the Modern China Burger, a limited-time sandwich that swaps the chain’s typical tan bun for one that’s decidedly ash-colored.

The burger, which made its debut in late September and is available through Nov. 3, isn’t the sort of fast-food sandwich that Western consumers are used to—and the difference isn’t just the bun.

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Instead of a beef patty, the meat on the Modern China Burger is a slab of pork, which is accompanied by slices of bacon. Pork is so popular in China that state-owned Shanghui International Holdings Ltd. bought one of the world's largest hog producers, U.S.-based Smithfield Foods, in 2013.

The bun isn’t a Western bread-like bun either. The two halves are a mantou, a tasty, traditional Chinese steamed bun. Normally mantou are a cream color, but McDonald’s decided to dye the buns using black sesame seeds. Unlike Burger King’s dyed-with-sauce, true-black Halloween Whopper that’s been rolled out here in the U.S., the black sesame seeds create the concrete-colored tone.

A photo posted by trinh (@trinhnis) on

But what’s with all these multicolored burgers? As people become more aware that a burger, fries, and milk shake meal can pave the way to obesity and other health issues, fast-food sales have tanked. In April McDonald’s announced that it would be shuttering 350 underperforming stores in the U.S., Japan, and China.

Stunts such as a swanky McDonald’s cafe in Japan—complete with fancy glasses and cloth tablecloths—a gray burger in China, and Burger King’s Halloween Whopper all seem designed to build curiosity and lure consumers back through the door. After all, if people walk into McDonald’s to try the gray burger just because it seems so completely weird, perhaps they’ll also purchase some fries. Then they’ll remember how much they like McD’s fries, and maybe they’ll come back the next day.

As for how the Modern China Burger tastes, according to two brave writers for Time Out Beijing who tried it, even though gray is “the last color you want your food to be,” it’s not a nightmare for the palate.

“If you know what you’re getting into, and I expect you do if you’ve just walked into McDonald’s, you could do a lot worse,” one of the taste testers wrote.