Skip to comments.The Country Where McDonald's Failed
Posted on 11/02/2011 9:09:54 AM PDT by rrstar96
Its big yellow "M" on a red background is practically recognizable anywhere in the world, and it is one of the symbols of globalization, but there is one place in Latin America where the McDonald's chain did not have the expected success.
It was in Bolivia where, despite the restaurant's attempt to adapt to local tastes (including llajwa, the sauce Bolivians season their dishes with, and folkloric music), it did not succeed.
Therefore, in 2002 and after 5 years in the country, the hamburger chain decided to close its 8 franchises in La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz.
Now, the documentary "Why Did McDonald's Go Bankrupt in Bolivia?" explores the reason why the inhabitants of those cities turned their backs on the world's most popular hamburgers.
"Culture won over a transnational [company], over the globalized world," documentary director Fernando Martínez affirms in a conversation with BBC Mundo.
To Martínez, one of the keys to the failure was the price, since, as he explains, the cheapest menu [item] cost 25 Bolivian pesos (close to $3) then. Meanwhile, for example, a complete lunch may currently be bought at a popular market in La Paz for 7 bolivianos (less than $1).
"It's easy to attribute [the failure] to the economy, but people, sociology, and cultural aspects are behind that," Martínez points out as he explains that such affordable prices are due to the Bolivians' "close to the land" relationship that prompts them to eat dishes with traditional products "with intense and strong flavors and after many hours in the kitchen."
In addition to visiting traditional markets, the documentary interviews New Bolivian cuisine chefs, historians, nutritionists, sociologists, and Roberto Udler, the former owner of the McDonald's franchises in Bolivia.
"I grew up making several trips overseas and, in truth, I saw with envy that other countries had McDonald's and we didn't," the businessman acknowledges in the documentary where he explains that the multinational decided to close all the franchises in zones of conflict after the September 11 attacks.
However, Bolivians are clear about tastes. And, as the song included in the documentary's soundtrack states, "[no one] imposes on my taste either how or when."
I think I have seen a total of 1 Starbucks in Argentina. Given the much nicer options Argentines have for coffee, I am not surprised.
“[no one] imposes on my taste either how or when.”
I don’t think Mooshelle will be taking her message about food to Bolivia soon.
There are times you cannot mess with the local offerings.
“To Martínez, one of the keys to the failure was the price”
What does it have to do with “culture,” then? Does Bolivia have a rich folk tradition of not overpaying for greasy hamburgers (or the equivalent in local taste)? Or are they just like everyone else when it comes to price?
Let me guess, there are not Saturday morning cartoons or shows for the children in Bolivia?
I suppose that, if Big Macs had been appealing enough, people in Bolivia would have been willing to pay the higher price. In the end, the local fare ended up being more palatable (and much cheaper, of course).
You have a point. Compare that to rich, hearty Latin American food.
It seems to be a matter of simple economics...Bolivians are happy with what they have at the price they get it for. Competition is rough in that environment and McD's couldn't (pun intended) cut the mustard.
Could it be the locals are tired of French cusine?
Mickeyn D’s fries are the best
They make all their profit on fountain sodas and they must all go flat in about 20 seconds at that altitude.
It’s tough to do business in Argentina. Lots of obstacles.
People. PEOPLE. PEOPLE.
It's. Freaking. Bolivia.
Interesting, while I can appreciate their desire to maintain their culture and cultural identity.
What I cannot appreciate is why no one can appreciate ours. Central and South American countries should respect our desire to maintain our ways in our country.
“I suppose that, if Big Macs had been appealing enough, people in Bolivia would have been willing to pay the higher price. In the end, the local fare ended up being more palatable (and much cheaper, of course)”
There you go, adding the cheaper part. Hence price, hence not very cultural. Look at it this way, Big Macs could be priced out of their appeal in the U.S., too, for instance if they cost 10 bucks a pop. But then what we’d be saying is not that Americans have a cultural aversion to Big Macs, but that they have an aversion to overpaying for Big Macs.
If this guy’s argument is that McDonald’s so goes against Bolivians’ culturally evolved palates that it couldn’t possibly be profitable, that’s one thing. In that case it wouldn’t be about price, as no price would suffice. But no, he says it was relatively more expensive than nearby local fare, which isn’t a cultural issue whatsoever. You could say, perhaps, that McDonald’s would have to be priced much lower than thje local fare to prevail, but, again, that’s not what he said. He said that local food was cheaper (and, oh yeah, “cultural”).
As to their “’close to the land’ relationship,” that’s probably because they don’t have a lot of alternatives. Also, lots of places have local food and McDonald’s. He’d have to explain what’s special about Bolivia, aside from relative poverty and a lack of a processed food industry. That would be cultural, in a sense. But America had the same culture, once, until it didn’t.
“dishes with traditional products ‘with intense and strong flavors and after many hours in the kitchen’”
Who the heck doesn’t like that? We have it here in the U.S. There’s a “cultural” difference, I’ll admit, in that we’re both too lazy and too busy to bother with it anymore. But, again, that will be true of Bolivia until it isn’t, and it can change with a blink. Also, McDonald’s is already successful in various nations without a history of fast food.
"Aw, gee whiz, Mama -- Huitres Mornay and Navarin d'agneau aux legumes d'hiver with Châteauneuf-du-Pape again?"
I can’t wait for the next breathless documentary telling is how cannibals in New Guinea aren’t buying Iphones either,,
Backwards culture,, doesn’t eat burgers. Who woulda guessed?
“Fifty-seventy years of consistently dry, bland food.”
Is it possible to be addictively bland? Maybe they inject a tasteless dose of morphine, or something. Because it makes people go back and back and back despite being constantly disappointed.
Ask your friends in Cuba about the wide freedom of choice in foods that the government affords them.
“I never understood why McDonald’s is in Paris.”
My lovely little friend Lily is a Parisian, and loves the free wifi, and the coffee, and the best fries on earth.
When im ready to sell my soul and get rich, or get famous,, ill just make a quick documentary saying how McDonalds is evil, or gets a smackdown,,
Instant hit in the indie film world.
Is Bolivia one of the South American countries where guinea pig is a delicacy?
When the first McDonald’s opened in Panama back in the early 80’s, people went bananas over it, especially us gringos who couldn’t get to an American burger joint that easily. Panamanians, not so much. After a while though, the enthusiasm and novelty wore off.
I went back to the Panamanian arroz con pollo pretty quick, damn tasty eats. I love Panamanian (Central American) food.
On the price scale, McD’s was about $5, local food was about $2. So, on both scales, the local food was the winner over McD’s.
If given a choice between McD’s or locally prepared indigenous food, I’ll choose the local food everytime.
(Unless it has organs in it, I don’t eat innards. Unless they’re very well disguised and I don’t know about it. Did I tell you I don’t knowingly eat innards?)
Mexico has very tasty/delicious indigenous food as well. But McDonald's is very popular with Mexicans as there are 205 McDonald's restaurants in Mexico. I would bet that if Bolivians had more disposable income, they might go to more fast food restaurants. Not necessarily McDonald's, but any fast food variety.
Interesting about Bolivia...However, in Brazil, McDonalds is popping up all over the place...
Obviously, I can’t speak for all of them, but I think it’s a safe bet that disposable income played a part.
Panama had a pretty decent sized middle class back then, but I don’t know how McD’s in Panama has fared since I left in ‘83.
I would venture to say that a McD’s, or similar, could be a welcome diversion from everyday fare once in a while.
Now that I live in the states, Panamanian, Mexican, etc. food is a welcome diversion from my current everyday fare.
Could it be the locals are tired of French cuisine?
Youth culture + convenience + tourists.
You can count on a lot of the patrons not being native Parisians.
Though Bolivia grows 800 varieties of potato, the McDonalds Corporation could not find the Russet potatoes that the company prefers. So they are importing their French fries from Canada while they determine how to cultivate that particular variety in Bolivia.
That could be part of the problem. Better to have done whatever Bolivians do with those 800 varieties of potato, than to try to force French fries down their throats.
I suppose the fact that the average Bolivian earns less than $5,000 per year has nothing to do with it.
There re a lot of Starbucks in Argentina. There are also lots of McDonalds as well.
The “Where McDonald’s [sic]” could be left right out of that. :’)