McDonald’s Tempts Chinese Breakfast Eaters with McMuffin Giveaway


“A kick-start to a longer-term breakfast campaign in China” is how a McDonald’s representative summed up the chain’s million-McMuffin giveaway on Monday. Counting other regional locations totaling about 5,000, 250,000 McDonald’s employees gave away about 5 million McMuffins. In Taiwan alone, 346 outlets handed out 1,000 McMuffins each.

And McDonald’s is far from done with plying Chinese eaters with free breakfast sandwiches. “In China, we will continue a ‘free monday’ event every Monday from March 25 to June 17,” Jessica Lee, McDonald’s Asia Pacific Senior Director of Corporate Relations, told brandchannel. She added that offers will range from free McMuffins to free upgrades to free drinks.

The giveaway caused a message-multiplying social stir, just as McDonald’s had hoped. Now, McDonald’s just has to get those millions to pay in what is about to become the most lucrative breakfast market ever known to man.[more]

On Monday, long lines snaked outside McDonald’s across China. Soon, the chain’s Chinese name (麦当劳) was a top topic on Weibo. Users uploaded photo after photo of consumers hungry for a free McMuffin. McDonald’s Weibo account also documented some of these lines.

On the surface it was just a giveaway, but McDonald’s promotion was more of a genius managed brand experience than a simple bit of product introduction. As some employees rushed to prep McMuffins and others handed them over, other McDonald’s employees engaged those waiting in line, offering hot beverages and information. In one extremely critical bit of planning, McDonald’s operated signs with real-time counts of how many of the 1,000-per-location sandwiches were gone, preventing customers from lining up only to be left in the lurch. This, Lee told us, was “key to the campaign’s success” and part of McDonald’s plan to “tie into the total experience.”

McDonald’s sells about 1.2 billion McMuffins a year. In the west, the 42-year-old McMuffin is a breakfast icon, but in China it is still largely an unknown, as is McDonald’s breakfast in general. Breakfast sales account for only about 9 percent of McDonald’s China sales.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In Singapore and Hong Kong, McMuffins—as well as pancake platters and hash browns—are popular. In these other Asian markets, McDonald’s sees about 25 percent of its whole business at breakfast. If it can translate that to China, well… buy McDonald’s stock.

Lee says the chain wants “to make Breakfast even more exciting and more relevant for our customers.” To this end, McDonald’s has localized by offering Soya milk and it will continue to add to its market-customized menu.

China’s breakfast market is estimated to be currently worth about $14 billion with the potential to be at least double or, eventually, quadruple that. It’s not just McDonald’s and rival KFC that want to take a bite out of that potential. Foreign and Chinese players all know what’s at stake with grabbing China’s morning mouths.

“Breakfast is our fastest growing day-part in China,” said Lee. Summing up why McDonald’s is in postion to excel in the morning, she added, “It’s not just the food, it’s the convenience, the speed and especially the quality and experience we bring to Chinese consumers that will win them.”

One market characteristic benefitting McDonald’s breakfast strategy is that Chinese consumers are already partial to eating “fast” morning meals on the go. In every city in China, lines form at street side stands, where hungry customers on the way to work grab and eat a baozi, youtiao, jianbing or other traditional Chinese breakfast on the go. Essentially, these foods, wrapped in paper and often deliciously greasy, are not that far removed from a McMuffin, so McDonald’s does not need to drastically change China’s breakfast habits, just redirect them.