Burger King partners with Waves to launch new cryptocurrency in Russia

In a surprise move, Burger King has partnered with Waves to launch a WhopperCoin promotion in Russia. (Burger King)

Spurred by increases in investment, the total value of the more than 800 publicly traded cryptocurrencies and crypto assets pushed past $160 billion for the first time ever this week, according to data provider CoinMarketCap. With the move, the figure is now up 1,500% from the $10 billion observed at the start of the year.

Indeed even Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly is interested in Bitcoin—and the Central Bank of Russia is saying that it is time to develop its own digital currency, according to a report by U.S. Blasting News, published out of Switzerland.

Now, in a surprise move, U.S. fast-food operator Burger King, which claims to serve 11 million customers worldwide each day, has launched its own cytpocurrency—called WhopperCoin—in Russia, BBC reports.

Burger King has partnered with crypto-cash start-up Waves—the biggest such project with Russian roots— to create and run the promotion. The tech company will run the blockchain ledger for the coin to keep track of who has coins and what has been done with them. In a statement, Waves said that it had already generated 1 billion Whoppercoins to use in the loyalty scheme.

Russian burger lovers will be able to buy a Whopper with the virtual cash, once they have amassed 1,700 Whoppercoins. The company said it would release Apple and Android apps next month to enable customers to save, share and trade their Whoppercoins.

The cryptocurrency is a standalone system that has some technical similarities to Bitcoin but is distinct from it, Burger King said. This means the company would be able to shut the system down if it found it was being abused.

Ivan Shestov, head of External Communications at Burger King Russia, told the BBC that the loyalty program has effectively turned the Whopper into an "investment vehicle."

On social media, some people reported that they had already managed to claim Whoppercoins after eating at a Burger King in Russia.

Garrick Hileman, a research fellow at the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance in the United Kingdom told the British news outlet that Burger King is the first major corporate brand to issue its own crypto-cash but he expected others to follow.

"Traditional loyalty programs, such as airline miles, typically have a fairly limited range of exchange options," he said. The ease with which the branded cryptocurrencies could be traded for other national currencies or even other assets could make them "more compelling" than a standard loyalty scheme, he added.

But one issue that corporate issuers had to confront, he said, was who else would accept their cryptocurrency.

"I don't imagine McDonald's will be quick to allow someone to pay for a Big Mac with their Whoppercoins," he said. "Burger King's competitors are more likely to accept an independent cryptocurrency like Bitcoin."