Pi Attitude Zone: Flexibility

How “MacDo” Put the French into French Fries

When the French shorten your brand name to “MacDo”, you sort of know they’ve started to like you.

Global brands such as McDonalds, when expanding internationally, were always tempted to “stick with their original winning formula”, which in their case was as American as apple pie.  Yet brands often find they do better adapting to local cultures.  Sometimes new winning formulas turn out to be an unexpected fusion of global and local approaches. 

McDonalds launched its first restaurant in France over 30 years ago.  The company’s previous international expansions (Canada, Japan…) had adhered rigidly to formulas successfully developed in the USA.  Indeed, that’s how their rival Burger King entered the French market, cloning its American restaurants with minimal local adaptation.  Their sales never really took off, and Burger King France eventually went to the guillotine.

Industry pundits inside and outside France predicted that “MacDo” would suffer the same fate.  France, they argued, was the world capital of serious gastronomy, and the French just had an inbuilt antipathy for American-style fast food. As if to prove it, a French farmer called José Bové bulldozed a McDonalds restaurant before it was half-built, and was briefly hailed as a national hero.

But McDonalds’ management did its French homework, and realized that local adaptations would improve its chances of success.  Managers, staff and franchisees are now French nationals.  Menu items are designed by French chefs, and 95% of all ingredients come from French farms, a fact the company has emphasized in it advertising.

France was the first country to list beer among the McDonalds beverage options.  Recently-introduced menu items continue to aim at French consumers.  Say bonjour to the McCamembert Burger and the Burger Baguette, in which American-style beef patties are combined with Emmental cheese and French mustard.  Concerned about healthy eating?  Have a McSalade.  Dessert with your coffee?  Try a McDonalds Parisian macaroon.

Despite McDonalds France’s independent-mindedness, some home-grown American virtues were judged to be worth preserving.  McDonalds’ culture is deliberately child-friendly, for instance, while French parents know that other restaurants can get sniffy when they seat the little ones at table.

The chain now has more than 1,200 restaurants, all locally-owned franchises. French consumers still flock to MacDo as “a slice of America”, though that perception ignores the degree to which the eating experience has been localized.  Never have fries been so French.

Pi says: never forget who, and what, you are.  But it pays to remember where you are, too.

Zone: Flexibility Country: Europe Product – Consumer Products