|A classy restaura...sorry, a McDonald's, new style.|
McDonalds suffered from a highly negative image in France until the late nineties, when many people thought that fast-food meant bad-food. This turned France into a recalcitrant rebel in Ronald’s eyes, because he had managed to successfully introduce the company’s products into most European countries as well as many other countries in other parts of the world without having to adapt them to local tastes any more than was strictly necessary, which wasn’t much.
This meant that the company had to come up with a major and multi-pronged plan of marketing attack to change France’s mind, and the results have been fairly spectacular. It has taken just less than ten years for the company to overrun most opposition to its products, and the way they have done this has been to introduce a bit of France into this erstwhile all-American product.
The offensive began in the early 2000’s with the major revamping of McDonalds’ restaurant premises. The French like to be in comfortable, aesthetically pleasing and relaxed surroundings when eating and many older restaurants were adapted to offer cleaner and more attractive décor and lighting. Many newer outlets have taken this idea even further, with inventive seating arrangements for in-place clients which are situated as far away as possible from the queues of people waiting to be served. The exteriors have been designed with more care being taken to make them blend into the local décor in which they are situated. There are even some outlets with urban-and-grunge-inspired interiors in some cities.
At the same time, another front was opened, that of French objections to the size of the company’s carbon footprint via its use of imported products. An aggressive policy of using French raw food products was introduced where possible. Even if you hadn’t read about this in the press you certainly were made aware of it in the restaurants, where leaflets and other supports trumpeted the new policy. French beef began to be used, lettuce, tomatoes and other accompaniments too, and McDonalds struck up highly-publicised supply deals with local producers. They finally managed to respect their Kyoto obligations and 2011 saw the start of a drive to use as much renewable energy as possible.
Simultaneously, and perhaps even most importantly, McDonald’s began to offer healthier products which are appreciated by the French, such as a choice of salads and fruit salads. Also, authentic French products began to appear. Sandwiches began to be made with local cheeses such as Comté, Cantal and Roquefort, croissants and other pastries became available in the morning, and local specialities such as Cannelles from Aquitaine were introduced. Top quality hamburgers were made using meat from the most renowned cattle-rearing regions of France. All of these changes were well-advertised and restaurants began distributing nutritional information on the various products. And while all this was going on, Anglo-Saxon products such as Eggs and Bacon disappeared discreetly from menus.
All of which brings us to today, where some McDonalds have even introduced waiter service and are now serving coffee from ‘real’ expresso-making machines in porcelain cups. More initiatives of this sort are said to be in the pipeline. Who would have though this possible 15 years ago?
The results of these efforts to overcome French resistance speak for themselves. The French now spend more per head for food eaten at table in McDonalds restaurants than any other nation, and they are the world’s biggest or second-biggest – depending on which stats you consult – consumers of McDonalds products in the world.
The introduction of the McBaguette therefore comes as no surprise. It is a totally coherent move in the context of McDonalds' marketing policy for France, and other, similar, products shall surely follow.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, McDonalds have largely won their battle to seduce French consumers, but it cannot be denied either that their products are of a much higher quality than they were 15 years ago, and that is largely due to the exacting culinary demands of the French. And the French have every right to be proud of that, so they too have won a battle of sorts.