Let’s consider a high-minded notion: If you had to pick a product to serve as an index of purchasing power across various markets, what would you choose? I think the ideal product would be commonly sold all over the world, homogeneous enough to be the same no matter where you bought it, cheap enough to have a broad base of buyers, popular enough to allow for near universal recognition, and it would also be something unsuited to price arbitrage via paper trading or via shipping between markets.
So, any ideas?
Here’s one: The Economist magazine, in 1986, came up with a product for a purchasing power index. They chose the Big Mac.
It may have been of a wry choice, but it was, nonetheless, a meaningful one. The “Big Mac Index” is widely followed to see how various currencies compare to each other by noting how much a Big Mac costs in their respective markets.
That’s interesting stuff. Well, it is for me, anyway. But it’s old news nonetheless. In more recent years, however, it has become apparent that hamburgers have, indeed, become part of the global scene. This applies to Big Macs in specific and to hamburgers in general.
For example, the first McDonald’s in Vietnam opened in 2014, and reportedly sold over 61,000 Big Macs during its first month of operations. I didn’t know that was even possible.
Moving from Big Macs to the more general burger realm, here’s another big number to consider: 1.19 billion hamburgers. That’s how many burgers were chowed down in France last year (yes, France) according to a March 8 article in The (U.K.) Telegraph.
In fact, says The Telegraph, citing a recent study, “three quarters of French restaurants now sell hamburgers and 80 percent of these say it has become their top-selling dish.”
This trend is hard for me to imagine in the home of “haute cuisine,” which is why the article got my attention.
Looking back at the west Pacific, we’re all familiar with Asian fast food chains that sell hamburgers.
Jollibee, headquartered in the Philippines, is one such chain. Jollibee has a number of restaurants in the U.S., by the way, with locations in Hawaii, California (22 by my count), Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Washington, Virginia, and another on the way in Illinois. That’s an impressive presence.
Another chain that I’d visit, this one in Korea, was Lotteria, which seemed very much into the burger market.
Large, international chains aren’t the only players, of course, and, at least in the U.S. mainland, there are a number of regional fast food chains that have loyal followings.
Another mainland angle is that small airports often have cafes, so a time-honored routine for weekend pilots is to fly to an airport for a “hundred dollar burger.” The burger itself is only $7, and the fuel to get there accounts for the other $93. While you’re flying to one airport for your $100 burger, somebody from that airport is flying to your airport for the same thing. If you ever get jaded, or, worse yet, broke, you might wind up spending a Saturday driving to an airport cafe so you can save $93 on a $100 burger. These cafes usually have very distinctive personalities. In fact, this might be the last bastion of the independent diner, the final redout where the corporate players have yet to cast a shadow.
Although burgers are usually associated with fast-food joints, diners, and overpriced hotel restaurants where you’re looking for the cheapest doggone thing on the menu that might be edible (but never is), burgers seem to be getting very popular in the more up-scale realm called “casual dining.” In this realm, having a burger, an appetizer, and a cocktail can easily cost $35 or more.
Well, we’re back to the cost thing. So I’ll mention that according to the Big Mac Index, as of January, a Big Mac in the U.S. was $4.93, in China was the equivalent of $2.68, and in Switzerland was the equivalent of $6.44.
Considering Saipan’s long lines of shipping, the cost of a Big Mac is mercifully close to the U.S. cost; the last price I’ve got for a Big Mac (at the Chalan Pale Arnold Rd. location) is $5.50.
Anyway, no matter what the price is, and no matter where we go, burgers seem to be a part of life all over the world.