Hamburgers made them famous, but the home of the Big Mac is starting to look more like la casa de comida tipica in Latin American countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
In its latest fast-food twist on local cuisine, McDonald’s chains in Colombia this week rolled out their new Almuerzo colombiano (Colombian lunch), which includes beans or lentils, white rice, fries, salad, and a piece of chicken or beef. (Finally, a place to get decent Colombian food in Colombia!)
“We’re thrilled to offer typical Colombian food so that our clients can enjoy delicious Colombian plates with the unique McDonald’s experience,” says Luis Raganato, president for Caribe Division at Arcos Dorados.
But not all Colombians are embracing the new menu options.
According to McDonalds this is a Colombian lunch. I think it is a laxative recipe.
Local restaurant owners are also a bit leery. Lisandro Gómez, who owns a small restaurant in Bogotá called ‘Balú,’ thinks McDonald's "almuerzo colombiano" could be bad news for local eateries because the fast food chain's prices are so low — and their marketing budget is so high— that it makes competition difficult.
“Their food should taste good because they're using local Colombian products, but they're not going to have the local flavor of homemade food you find in local restaurants," Gómez says.
McDonald's is attempting similar forays into other Latin American markets, sometimes scrapping the beef patties altogether to adjust for local tastes.
“While it’s true that the McDonald’s brand is strongly associated with hamburgers, this has not prevented the company from dropping all meat from some local menus,” says Nataly Kelly, author of the book Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World.
In Venezuela, a country experiencing a dearth of french fries, McDonald’s has adjusted to the shortages by offering alternative menu items, including some typical foods such as arepas with cheese, eggs, and ham.
Despite the shortages, the situation in Venezuela's McDonald's still isn't as dire as it was in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution in the 1980s, when a U.S. embargo forced the fast food chain to substitute cabbage for lettuce, fried cassava for french fries, pitaya juice for Coca-Cola, and Russian cardboard for Big Mac wrappers. And you never had to bother telling the kitchen to hold the pickles, because they're weren't any.
Now, most of McDonald's local innovations are done in an effort to be respectful of local customs and tastes. But the menu inventions sometimes miss their mark, observers say.
John Crissien, president of Latin American Management Society, a regional brand and management consulting company, thinks fast food joints are out of their depth offering local menu items.
“It's American-style. That's what identifies the brand. Some chains like KFC have tried to offer the same [local menu options] but I know they have not received as much positive feedback as they expected, especially related to getting new customers or increasing sales,” he says.
Crissien doesn't expect McDonald's almuerzo colombiano to become a big lunchtime hit in Bogota. “I believe people in Colombia are not going to McDonald’s to eat Colombian food.”
Still, the local menus represent an interesting shift in corporate thinking from a franchise that's built it's reputation on an unwavering uniformity of quality and product worldwide.
Here's a look at some of McDonald's other local menu remixes:
Costa Rica’s most traditional dish is gallo pinto, or black beans and rice,. Add fried plantain, fried eggs and some vegetables and you've got McDonald’s McPinto.
In Mexico, you can order for breakfast local burritos, made with egg, sausage, jitomate and tortillas.
McMolletes is another option: three hot breads topped with beans, cheese and Mexican sauce.
If you visit Dominican Republic you can try Mangú with meat and eggs for breakfast. Mangú is cooked green plantain mashed with onion rings at the top. But it hasn't convinced all Dominicans.
“This @McDonalds_RD breakfast is disrespectful to Dominican mangú”.
Iván Luzardo is a Colombian journalist with a focus on technology, economics and business topics. He is a visiting fellow at Fusion, and loves soccer, travel and digital trends.