By CANDICE CHOI
NEW YORK -- What has two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame bun? Burger King's latest sandwich.
The Miami-based chain says it's bringing back its "Big King" sandwich, which looks a lot like the popular Big Mac made by its bigger rival McDonald's. Burger King says it's an addition to the permanent menu rolling out this week.
Burger King says it previously offered the Big King as a limited-time offer. But back then, it didn't have the middle bun -- a Big Mac hallmark -- like it does now.
It's just the latest move by Burger King that seems to pay more than a little homage to the Golden Arches. Last spring, Burger King also unveiled a revamped menu that looked a lot like the food McDonald's (MCD) had added in recent years, such as fruit shakes, chicken snack wraps and specialty coffee drinks.
Since then, Burger King has also rolled out a rib sandwich to compete with the popular McRib, as well as chicken nuggets (Burger King is better known for its chicken tenders). As the New York Post wrote at the time, "They look like McNuggets. They're as nutritious as McNuggets. Just don't call them McNuggets."
What does McDonald's think of all this? "We're focused on our business and our customers," spokeswoman Lisa McComb said in an email.
Scott Hume, editor of BurgerBusiness.com, notes that imitation is common in the fast-food industry.
"McDonald's clones make sense if they're popular in the marketplace," Hume said. He noted that Burger King has also rolled out more differentiated products, such as a pulled pork sandwich.
The changes aren't yet making a big splash with customers. In the latest quarter, Burger King said sales slipped 0.3 percent at North American locations open at least a year. McDonald's said the figure edged up 0.7 percent.
Burger King Worldwide (BKW) has had numerous owners over the years. 3G Capital, an investment firm run by Brazilian billionaires, bought the chain and took it private in 2010. It took it public again last year in a deal that allowed it to earn back what it paid while still maintaining a majority stake.
Since then, 3G has moved CEO Bernardo Hees on to another assignment over in Pittsburgh, where he's heading up H.J. Heinz. 3G bought the ketchup maker with Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) (BRK-B). In Hees' place, 3G installed another one its principals, Daniel Schwartz, who was 32 at the time.
As for the new "Big King," Burger King's website lists it at 510 calories. The Big Mac is listed at 550 calories.
Burger King also recently introduced lower-calorie fries that it dubbed as "Satisfries." Notably, Burger King has been touting the fries as having 30 percent fewer calories than regular fries. But the comparison is to McDonald's fries, not its own fries.
Satisfries have 20 percent fewer calories than Burger King's own fries.
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