As we discovered last week in Italy, the company likes to to localise its menu. Can global chains ‘do’ regional specialities?
Local, regional and artisan: these words have all become a part of our modern culinary vocabulary. They are choices that are made for a number of reasons – belief in authenticity, and the feelgood factor of supporting a local producer. And eating a regional specialty means taking part in the local culture.
There was a time when you didn’t “choose to eat local”, you just did it, because that was simply all there was. In today’s globalised world with easy access to international products, returning to our local roots has become a big trend. It’s no wonder the food industry sees an opportunity – which is why we now have big brands grabbing hold of regional specialties.
Last week McDonald’s joined forces with Italian pasta brand Barilla; not exactly small scale, but a company that has been in the same family for four generations. The partnership is allowing McDonald’s to “Italianise” its menu: branches of McDonald’s in Italy will now serve up a pennette pasta salad, identified as “a balanced and skilful mix of tuna, tomatoes, peppers, capers and olives, seasoned with a pinch of oregano and salt”. That’s a far cry from a Big Mac. And in a country that’s known for its regional – and often slow – cuisine, the deal might raise some eyebrows. But in the world of locavorism, that type of partnership makes economic sense.
In fact, the move to regionalise its menu isn’t McDonald’s first such effort. In Hong Kong you can get a “Shogun” burger with teriyaki sauce and cabbage, in some Gulf states a McArabia chicken on flatbread, an “Aussie” menu for its Australian crowd, and in France the global burger chain sells macarons – the perfect dessert to round off your cheeseburger lunch?
And McDonald’s isn’t alone. Domino’s also offers special options for its Asian customers, Argentinians get a specialised Burger King Whopper called criollo, using chimichurri sauce and cheese instead of mayonnaise, and there are paneer-filled fajitas at Taco Bell in India.
In some cases the big chains may pull this off, but – no matter how hard you try – a salad at McDonald’s in Italy is still a McDonald’s salad and is always going to feel “assembled” rather than prepared by a chef with a real feel for food. And it seems unlikely that Ladurée in Paris is feeling threatened by McDonald’s efforts at macarons. Should they be?