The United States has finally been declared “saturated” by fast foods, both in economic terms and the physical sense, with 60 precent of the countries total calories coming from processed food, and obesity rates at 27 percent. This reality is forcing fast food franchises to not only conform their health standards to stay ahead, but their markets too. Today the county with the greatest concentration of fast food restaurants is Peru. Yum! Brand, parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, and one of the biggest competitors out there, built almost 2000 new units internationally in 2012. Chairman and CEO David Novak wrote to his long-term shareholders, in the 2012 annual report, sighting the top ten emerging markets as the focus. Novak wrote that “urbanization and the rapidly growing consumer class point to China as the #1 retail growth opportunity in the world”, and India became its own separate division in 2012. Among fast foods the race for India which is forecasted to have the largest consuming class in the world come 2030, is rather intense.
The question of how this transition across nations, cultures, and classes will be played out has been watched with some interest. The Yum! Brands 2008 Corporate Responsibility Report discussed how safety standards would work across nations, deciding “the guidelines are translated to local market requirements and regulations where appropriate and without compromising the standards.” In response to this lose guideline The Men’s Journal recommended travelers eat McDonald’s in developing worlds, as its standards are internationally the same.
Traveling bloggers disagree, siting the Brazilian and Mexican McDonalds as classier eating options than the American counterparts. The different marketing bracket and Brazils stringent food policies has lead to a very different quality of food and atmosphere. This move to middle class for fast-food franchises as they build in to developing worlds is partly due to the fact that most developing worlds have their own version of fast food- street food. Typically easily accessible, cheep, and the traditional food to grab while busy around town, this is the working mans lunch, and the travelers easy option. There is also an unintentional check on the quality of street food as the food is typically prepared in front of the customer and the products purchased locally.
The transition to upper-middle class was not the only change fast food franchises were forced to adopt. The Travel Channel did a special on McDonald’s world wide. In Sao Paulo the Egg McMuffin was dropped for a Cheese Puff Roll made with local kasava flour, the beverage menu revamped, and Banana Pie and Mango Ice Cream the desert options. The Indian branch offering meet free versions of a “burger”. McDonalds explained that “we take McDonalds flavors but do them in an international way”, and claiming that every where in the world McDonalds was good food with a local touch.
Getting to this point has been a work in progress, though. Anthropologist Dr Conrad Kattak watched McDonald’s transformation, comparing a visit in 1980 when McDonald’s roughly translated advertisements were clearly out of sync with the culture. One advertisement suggested hamburgers be enjoyed on the beach but Dr Kattak explained that “Brazilians don’t consider a hot, greasy hamburger proper beach food” which is a time for cold foods only. McDonalds could have lost a market as the class of Brazilians who can buy McDonalds typically have cooks and maids that fulfill the role fast foods fill in America. McDonalds did catch one cultural clue, however, that developed their niche in Brazil by offering their services for “the cook’s day off”. This would be Sunday nights, and it was soon to this market that McDonalds broke through into Brazil. Bolivia was a different story though. After fourteen years of trying to make headway into the Bolivian market McDonalds finally closed its last one in 2013. Natural News attributes this to the fact that Bolivians are skeptical of food that can be made so fast. KFC had similar issues translating itself cross culturally recently in East Africa when their billboard in Dar-es-Salam featured the “finger lickin good” slogan and a man licking his left hand, a major taboo in East African culture.
The cross- cultural misunderstanding is not the only issue in the translation of fast food franchises to the developing worlds. While these companies work to catch up on saturating the market in these new middle classes, concerns of physical saturation in the developing world has been voiced. In 2013 Mexico surpassed the United States obesity rates. South African Doctor Motsoaledi told the Guardian that “Africans are eating more and more junk processed foods instead of their traditional diet…Children are put in front of the TV and they eat junk in front of it. It is not a life of activity. It’s a globalized world; we can’t expect to be left untouched.” South Africans are fighting to get standards in place so that they too can come out like Brazil, with an improved branch of the American fast food.