Thursday, 12 April 2012

McDonalds and the Battle for France

A classy restaura...sorry, a McDonald's, new style.
The announcement that McDonalds is to launch a new product in France called the McBaguette has attracted a lot of attention from the media but this news is just a minor event in what has been a long battle to seduce French consumers.

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.


  1. Hi Frip,
    I've been meaning to ask you what you think of British baguettes (if you ever eat them).

    I stopped buying them years ago-none of them are much good. They sometimes get the crust about right, but the insides are often terrible. It's a long time since i tried them, can't even remember my exact dislikes.
    But i do remember one in which the dough was still so wet and heavy that i could roll it up and bounce it like a ball. That was Sainsburys.

    Some were just bland and flavourless, some had unpleasing textures.

    I tried all the major supermarkets, who seem to make almost all the 'fresh' bread around here.

    I read that many of them are mixed and shaped, and then frozen for months until needed to produce a 'fresh' loaf.

    all the best, Neil M.

    1. Hi Neil, hope all's well with you and yours, and you have raised some very interesting issues. I always try English baguettes when I go home to see my family, and I agree that the insides are often disappointing. But, as you say, the crusts can sometimes be good.

      That said, even on the rare occasion that I come across a good one by English standards, it still lacks the finesse of better French baguettes. They all seem to use the same standard recipe and form, and they are not all 'cuit au sol'. Which, of course, means that they are mostly frozen and mass-produced, that which I detailed in the blog about baguettes in France.

      And although I don't know about England, supermarket baguettes are amongst the worst in France.

      I wish I knew more about the recipes and techniques they use in England, because it so happens that my former girlfriend is the daughter of a boulanger, and he, and his son, are very good friends of mine. And they are both excellent bakers. They would certainly have something to say on that subject, you can bet on it...

  2. Hi Frip,
    Glad to hear it's not just cynical old me thinking the grass is always greener.
    Unfortunately the supermarkets here are increasingly dominant.

    I remember in L'pool getting my bread from Wallers-a small local chain of bakeries with about 6 shops. They made good tasty bread and cakes, but kept it simple-a small range of both, preferring quality to having a wide selection.
    Now eg Waitrose do a huge range of 'real ' French style breads, among many others, and they're all crap, and very expensive. Theirs is probably my least favourite of uk bread, really damp and unpleasant inside-so damp the crust becomes soft within hours of buying, i found it necessary to toast it twice to drive off the water.
    Not just that, but when i tried all their 'French' breads, it looked as if they made them all from exactly the same dough, then just made them into different shapes.

    Wallers seems to have gone (judging by googlestreetview)along with most other small bakeries-i guess they can't compete with the supermarkets.
    On Smithdown rd there also used to be another one which sold wonderful home made cheesecakes.

    all the best, Neil M.

  3. Hi again Frip,

    "I wish I knew more about the recipes and techniques they use in England, because it so happens that my former girlfriend is the daughter of a boulanger, and he, and his son, are very good friends of mine. And they are both excellent bakers. They would certainly have something to say on that subject, you can bet on it..."

    Forgive me if i'm repeating things-i've been talking bread to other people online recently and can't recall exactly what i've said to whom.

    In the uk there's the Chorlywood process which uses high speed mixers etc to make Mothers Pride type rubbery white sliced loaves. It's all about saving time to cut costs at the expense of the bread's quality.

    Two of the French methods I've come across are using a 'preferment' aka a 'Poolish' which is simple and just involves mixing some flour water and yeast and letting it ferment for a day or so prior to using it to make the bread. The extra fermentation time produces lots of lovely flavours missing in quickly made bread.

    Also 'autolysing' which just means mixing the flour with water only for no longer than half an hour prior to mixing the dough.
    This causes a chemical reaction in the flour, makes kneading shorter and easier and also develops more flavour from the flour.

    As far as i know, French bread is made with much the same flour as we use in the uk- the difference comes from the methods used rather than the type of flour itself.

    The 2 methods above both involve little extra work, but do involve a lot of waiting -the longer a loaf takes to make, the better it's likely to be, and i suspect that uk bakers, even the better independent ones, are in too much of a hurry.

    I recently bought a Hovis-my first shop bread for a couple of years, and was genuinely shocked at its complete lack of flavour and horrible light cotton wool texture.

    all the best, Neil M.

    1. Morning Neil,

      Good lord. Wallers?! That takes me back to when I used to live on Smithdown Road (Whittier Street, just off it, to be precise). That area used to be full of small shops in the Seventies. Many are now gone of course, but still, there remain some good small shops down there. The thing that surprised me the most the last time I was there, 2 years ago, was the number of pubs that had gone. Awful. They really were part of the fabic of the place. *sniff*

      Good point that, about bakers being in too much of a hurry. That's been happening in France too unfortunately. More and more. Two reasons for that. The first is the fact that cash-strapped bakers are trying to find ways of replacing employees they should have but don't because they cost too much, and the second is the deregulation of pricing and the freedom given to bakers to deviate from the standard recipes they had before.

      About how to make bread 'à-la française', do you read French reasonably well by any chance (I don't remember)? If you do I'll send you some authentic professional bakers' recipes. If not I promise I'll go and see one of my baker friends and get his detailed recipes and tips. He'll be only to pleased to give me them because he - the French-Brit friendly love-hate relationship oblige - will be only too pleased to get a chance to gloat as he educates "zee breeteesh" as he calls us. I do know though that no pro uses a recipe that takes more than a night, never mind two days.

      Anyway, let me know and I'll get on it.



  4. Hello Michael,
    I've just written a longer reply and it vanished 404 style when i previewed it,- dammit.

    Am short on time at the moment so must be brief, but yes I can read French reasonably well and would be interested in anything you can send.

    No sugar- is another aspect of the trad French bread, I seem to remember.
    Modern bakers cheat a bit and add a little sugar to speed the yeast up, i dare say it happens over there too nowadays, but bread made without sugar takes far longer for the dough to rise, which makes it tastier.

    all the best, Neil.

    1. Hello Neil,

      Yup, the use of sugar by some bakers is not in doubt. How many of them use it? I'll ask around. Oh, and as you read French I'll get on this and send you some links. I'll also ask a couple of bakers if they would recommend any particular sites.

      Hooo, it's been a dreary and wet day here so I haven't been out and am in a state of extreme torpor. :)

      All the best,

  5. Hello Michael,
    thanks, am looking forward to them. I do have a couple of sites about 'French' bread that I use but I think they're by English enthusiasts, (and very good they are too) rather than authentically French.

    Your article almost makes un McDonalds sound tempting. I had a British one recently. I honestly like to have one every 4 years or so, just to remind myself that I'm missing nothing good.
    It was lukewarm and a bit soggy, and too sweet for me-the bread and relish at least.
    On the other hand, and must admit I haven't had one for about 8 years, but they did (and possibly still do) a really top quality cup of coffee, I was amazed how good it was, when introduced to it, really did find it hard to believe.

    all the best, Neil .

  6. Hi Frip,

    Have just come here via your link on the G's ideas page-and am glad i did!
    Really interesting to learn about McDonalds and how they persisted so successfully-and when i move to France later on in the year i shall not turn up my nose when i see one!

    1. Hi Rumblingtum, and long time no see on the G's threads! I hope you and yours are well. Thanks very much for the kind words, and if ever you come down Lyon way I'll invite you for a McBaguette. Actually, no. A few pints would be better.. :)

  7. Ha ha!Sounds good-i honestly have not darkened the doors of McDons for many years.Here in Turkey they have come up with a kofte burger but i think As Emma says above that the 'bread' they use is way too sweet..
    Hope to be heading to Normandy after 20 odd years here with not much baggage-just the 2 dogs..and parrot.İt will be a wrench but i need a challenge,something new etc.
    Am now going to read the rest of your articles-i really am glad you write a blog and i like your style.
    Bet you will be following the election results tonight!
    All the best,
    Ruth..i do not have a rumbling tum-it is a pub's name down Dorset way..

    1. From Turkey to Normandy with 2 dogs and a parrot?!! I can't wait to read about that! You should start a blog.:)

      Concerning the election results, oh yes, I'll be watching all right, but in a dispassionate manner as neither candidate is what France needs in my view. I'll certainly be blogging on the winner and his prospects for the future though, that's for sure. :)

      Oh, and who's Ruth when she's at home by the way?

  8. Ha again!

    Ruth is my own self at home and abroad..haha.

    Re move to France-was going to do it overland with friend driving but he did a trial run which involved a 3 day delay getting out of Turkey at the Edirne border and many other adventures which turned the journey into harrowing rather than fun so have decided the animals will be flown instead..

    Re blog-hmmm i am useless with computers,it took me 5 mins to be able to sign in to your blog!

    Re elections (am i sounding like Capmint1 yet?!)

    They are a figleaf for...No cannot continue,who do you think could do the best for France?
    İ await another piece on that please..and thankyou.

    1. Well hi Ruth, and my name's Michael.

      Turkey to France in a car? This isn't the Sixties you know!:) Mind you, with the dogs and parrot you don't have much option I suppose, financially speaking. I'm surprised to chose Normandy though. Why not somewhere in the south, where the weather is warmer and you'd have less of a temperature shock?

      Hey, do you know what? I'll take up your idea for my next blog. I'll head it something like 'Hollande or Sarkozy, France did not get the prez it needed.'

      Then I'll explain.....

  9. For the record am in total awe of capmint and only wish i had his insight and knowledge..i am below bantam weight on the mena thread i know.

    1. I appreciated Cap very much. He was one of the few reasonable voices on the mena threads, and you were far above most of the others. The rest was mostly propaganda and anti-western hate sentiment. That's why I left those threads a while back. I mean, many months after Libya, in the midst of the Syria crisis, and there they all were still ranting on about Misrata and Benghazi! Not my style... :)

  10. Vivre Hollande!(pardon my French)

    Yes am dying to hear your critique of it all.Consensus being Hollande did not win so much as Sarkozy lost etc..
    Agree re ranting but have become addicted to mena.Syria is baffling-way more complex than Libya and i think most are fumbling in the dark there.but i follow it for many reasons-the way people debate and react to each other fascinates me.i have learnt a lot from it.Clunie is there from time to time but is fed up with Assad apologists.Cap often refers to you in the midst of a post..
    anyway back to mr normal-the socialists celebrating tonight..
    jobs and growth of economy expected-good luck to him with that,hope springs eternal and all that..

    Have a good night down there in Lyon.