A third of a pound or a quarter of a pound — which is bigger? Fractions and Math, in general, can be confusing and Americans in the late ‘80s apparently struggled with this.
I’m a big burger fan. The bigger, the better and at McDonald’s, the Quarter Pounder (or variations of it) have always been my go-to burger there. I’ve never liked the Big Mac. Too much bread and not enough meat. I suppose that is exactly why the burger was created in the first place. More meat and less bread.
Nowadays you can get double and triple Quarter Pounder burgers at McDonald’s if you’re really hungry but back in the 1980s, another chain in the United States, A&W had their own plan to make a competing burger called the Third Pounder.
History of McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Burger
Double Quarter Pounder, Quarter Pounder and a Cheeseburger from McDonald’s in 2021
Whilst we have a massive choice of burger varieties today, it was not until 1973 when the first quarter pounder burger was introduced to us. Al Bernardin, a franchise owner and a former Vice President of McDonald’s Product Development, made sure the fast-food chain would have something new and special that no one else was doing. He created something new and more unique to the consumers’ taste buds. He felt that “…there was a void in our menu vis-à-vis the adult who wanted a higher ratio of meat to bun,” he said in 1991 while commemorating the burger’s 20th anniversary, thus, the Quarter Pounder was born, with a slogan, “Today Fremont, tomorrow the world.”
McDonald’s is always working on something new and fresh for us, and their Quarter Pounder was mainly introduced in California in 1971 but became a part of their national menu in 1973. The classic burger was initially included 4 ounces of an all-beef patty, with ketchup, mustard, and dill pickles served on a sesame seed bun. It made history for both the burger itself, the fast-food brand as well as people. Regardless of age, people were very eager to try out this massive new burger.
History of A&W’s Third Pounder Burger
Source: A&W Restaurants Blog
In the 1980s, the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder was then challenged by A&W Restaurants’ Third Pounder. It may have seemed like the one with McDonald’s, but definitely with a lump of bigger meat in between the buns. A&W’s Third Pounder evolved to test and replace a name for the Quarter Pounder, with the hopeful ability to get beyond the sales of McDonald’s and be a better version of the Quarter Pounder. The Third Pounder even had the same price as the Quarter Pounder of McDonald’s, which can compete with the latter’s popular burger. However, it failed to do so, and the Quarter Pounder was undisputed.
Why Did the Third Pounder fail?
It was not about how the Third Pounder has a different taste than the Quarter Pounder, it was mainly about how Americans were “bad at Maths”. It basically got mixed up in the minds of the consumers, creating confusion between the two burgers’ real sizes.
So, What Really Happened to the Pounders Mix Up?
When we say Third Pounder, we always think of the number 3, whereas, when we say Quarter Pounder, we think of the number 4. 4 is greater than 3, so we assume that the Quarter Pounder is always bigger than the Third Pounder.
A&W Restaurants was also confused at first why their Third Pounder wasn’t sellable against the Quarter Pounder. Even though it was priced the same as their competitor, everyone was always bound to get the Quarter than the Third Pounder burgers. In the 1980s, former owner A. Alfred Taubman did research as to why the flop for the Third Pounder happened. In his book Threshold Resistance, he reiterated “We were aggressively marketing a one-third-pound hamburger for the same price…but despite our best efforts, including first-rate TV and radio promotional spots, they just weren’t selling.” Hence, A&W’s search for the answer came into place.
Confusions were about to be answered when the company hired a team of researchers to have a survey on the particular scepticism. Turns out, when they were interviewing most Americans about the matter, it led them to the conclusion that most people who prefer the Quarter Pounder were not fully aware of fractions. Most participants even questioned the price of the Third Pounder and asked, “Why should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat?” – the truth was then discovered.
Interestingly, they were not aware that A&W’s Third Pounder had a bigger meat composition compared to McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. This goes to the fact that the participants assumed that the Quarter (1/4) of a pound was bigger than a Third Pounder (1/3). Thus, it was all about just the number mix-up, and not factually about how the differences in taste were like. Then again, 4 is always bigger than 3 (but does not apply with fractions).
Despite the confusion, Taubman took an important lesson from the Third Pounder fiasco, “Sometimes the messages we send to our customers through marketing and sales information are not as clear and compelling as we think they are.”
Seems pretty stupid, but it happened.
¼ Pounder or ⅓ Pounder – Which is better?
The Third Pounder (left) is now known as the Papa Burger.
Now that we know the history of why the Third Pounder was banished from A&W’s menus (and evolved into the Papa Burger). Most people would agree that the Third Pounder is actually better value than the Quarter Pounder. Still, we have to keep in mind that there are a lot of considerations as to which is better, not only when it comes to a burger’s serving size and price.
Perhaps the most important thing for most of us is always the taste of the burger itself. Some may prefer A&W Restaurants better, and some may choose McDonald’s over any other. Living in Australia, I’ve never actually eaten at an A&W restaurant before as we do not have them here. I’ve been to the USA plenty of times, but never noticed this chain anywhere I’ve been. I can’t really comment on taste, but I’m glad we can get larger burgers by adding additional patties when we want more than a quarter of a pound of beef at McDonald’s and other chains.