McDonalds Lost The Greek Market. Is Starbucks Next?

McDonalds Athens Greece

Athens / May 5, 2018

Cachoeirinha, Brazil: a vote of confidence
Alex Bellos

When Brazilian footballer Ronaldo and his wife Milene were choosing a name for their child they wanted something that sounded like the father's name but was a little different. "We chose Ronald, " says Milene, "It fitted perfectly. And also, Ronaldo and I love eating at McDonald's."

Since Ronald McDonald arrived in Brazil 22 years ago he has made a big impression on Latin America's largest nation. Brazil has 554 McDonald's restaurants, a similar amount of McDonald's ice-cream kiosks (the number varies according to the season), and the total is growing at a rate of 70 restaurants and 50 kiosks a year.

Tomorrow, a Drive-Thru outlet is due to open in Cachoeirinha, a satellite town of Porto Alegre in the south of the country. It is part of the second wave of McDonald's' expansion in Brazil. The first was to the main cities. The second is a push inland.

A big party has been arranged that will include musical performances with gaucho men and women in regional dress and, less traditionally, a belly-dancer. The local priest, Father Dionisio Kemper, will bless the establishment. Four hundred customised metal badges have been ordered to share between the employees and special guests.

"Even though McDonald's is a multinational, " says Shioji Honda, the 29-year-old manager, "people see it as a local company. It helps the whole community, with local labour and jobs. It unites the community."

A week ago there was nothing at the site along Cachoeirinha's main street where McDonald's now stands. Then the prefab building with cream walls and a blue roof was delivered and put up in 72 hours. The highest point visible in the town is a 16m pole supporting a pair of golden arches; one more town colonised by the Big Mac.

Honda interviewed more than 350 young people for the 53 jobs. "Everyone wants to work at McDonald's, " he adds. McDonald's is well-known for not insisting on previous experience and is an established route into the workplace for tens of thousands of young Brazilians. About two thirds of McDonald's' 36, 000 employees started their working lives there. Almost 90% are under 21.

When the branch opens it will be the first job for Márcia de Oliveira Trinidade, aged 18. "My friend worked in a McDonald's in a shopping centre, she said I should do it. She said it's a really good place to work. Most of the others are my age, it's a good atmosphere."

Márcia's starting salary is £36 a month for a four-hour day, which works out at less than 45p an hour. It doesn't sound like much but the national minimum wage is £49 for twice as many hours. Many entire families survive - albeit in abject misery - on the minimum wage. A Big Mac costs £1.16, meaning that Márcia has to work more than three hours to be able to afford one.

Brazilian McDonald's uses exclusively Brazilian ingredients and has developed its own products, such as passion fruit juice, banana tart and guava sauce for ice cream. Brazilians have also embraced the Americanisms, abbreviating a Big Mac to a "Big" and introducing terms such as McDuplo, McMilla and McOferta. Quarter Pounder has been officially adapted to the nearest word, Quarterao - a bizarre choice since its literal meaning is a person with a quarter black blood.

Brazil is the world's largest Catholic country, and over Easter the Cachoeirinha branch will - like the others in the chain - be promoting its line of McFish. Even so, Father Dionisio says he has no intention of staying on after his blessing.

Brazil is no stranger to anti-imperialist sentiment. The area around Porto Alegre, in fact, was the focus for violent protests against biochemical giant Monsanto's genetically modified soya seeds this year. Yet McDonald's has not attracted the same anti-globilisation resentment.

The widespread poverty and unfair distribution of wealth in Brazil has meant that the decision to open a McDonald's store in the town is seen as a welcome vote of confidence. Edir Oliveira, a local leftwing councillor in Cachoeirinha, said he was proud that the chain was coming to Cachoeirinha. "There is lots of unemployment here. The more work that comes the better."

Before each McDonald's opens, there is usually a family night, in which parents of the employees are asked to attend the restaurant and be served a meal by their children. "This is very emotional. In Brazil most first jobs are part of the informal economy. It's important for a mother to see that her daughter has an honest job, " says Ayrton Kanitz, a McDonald's spokesperson.

The growth of McDonald's in Brazil has been in parallel with the fate of the currency, which after years of hyperinflation is now stable. The effect was to give the poorer sectors of society more disposable income.

This is perhaps best seen in a favela shantytown in Rio de Janeiro, which this year became the first in Brazil to have its own branch of McDonald's. As well as demonstrating the urbanisation of slum areas, it shows that McDonald's is the multinational best-placed to step in where others fear to tread.

The favela branch does so well that it does equivalent business to the kiosk at the glitzy Barra shopping mall three miles away, which is frequented by the richest sector of Rio's population.

In Porto Alegre, where Carlos Henrique Silva Alvares looks after seven outlets, he has seen a move from McDonald's opening in shopping centres to less heavily urban areas like Cachoeirinha. "The Drive-Thru is an evolution. Before, cars were a luxury. Now they are a necessity."

The McDonald's identikit Drive-Thru restaurants may look plastic and ugly, yet they can hardly be said to disfigure places such as Cachoeirinha, which are often randomly planned and an untidy mess of odd-sized buildings anyway. Cachoeirinha is only 35 years old, making it younger than McDonald's itself.

One McDonald's promotion that has gone down especially well in Brazil are the McHappy Days, in which Big Mac sales are donated to cancer charities. In a McHappy Day last year 5.3m Big Macs were sold - making the Brazilian McHappy Day the most successful in the world. "Brazilians really go in for this type of solidarity, " said Honda.

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