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McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Rome in the 80’s, across from the Spanish Embassy and right next to the famed designer Valentino’s Atelier headquarters. Yes, McDonald’s had lots of experience moving into new markets, but Italy was especially difficult given the quality of ingredients used within the country. A demanding clientele had to be won.
Before long the Atelier (Valentino) sued the chain, claiming that the stench deriving from fried food was ruining its clothes. After a long legal battle, resulting in McDonald’s being forced to fix venting and airflow, it appeared that McDonald’s might be doomed in Italy. For a long time only a few McDonald’s operated in Italy, which seemed strange for a fast food chain found on nearly every street corner the world over. In spite of seeming failure, and since the fast food giant had plenty of financial resources to sustain them through thick and thin, they decided to weather the storm. They patiently waited until the timing was right and then, suddenly, many franchises appeared all over the country unexpectedly. But how did they manage?
To start with McDonald’s did what made financial sense: they bought out their competitor, Burghy, a chain that belonged to Italy’s largest meat producer. The deal greatly benefited both sides: McDonald’s took over all the restaurants, while Burghy’s former owner, Cremonini, became the sole meat supplier for McDonald’s in Italy, in addition to some other parts of Europe. Now it was time for McDonald’s to appeal to new customers, ones unaccustomed to eating burgers and fries and, mind you, with very discerning taste buds. In order to win the older generations, namely the parents who would open their wallets, McDonald’s had to offer healthier food options such as fresh salad and pasta bars. And so it was that McDonald’s entered the Italian lifestyle for good.
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Next came another major American concept, the drive-thru, which was achieved though a contract with oil giant Agip, who agreed to open a number of restaurants in their gas stations. While still not as popular as in the US, the Agip drive-thrus remain.
Dulcis in fundo, the Italian McDonald’s introduced franchising, which led to private investing and eventually made out of McDonald one of the few fast food chains that have managed to be successful in Italy. Believe it or not, McDonald’s engages in careful publicity campaigns leading to an image of the chain as one which is based on good, healthy Italian products and ingredients. Far from our dear familiar American image of greasy, fast food!
Yes, McDonald’s proves that the brand is able to thrive in new countries. And yes, unbelievable but true, Italians have embraced the Golden Arches, which can now be seen gleaming next to historical landmarks all over the country. Just for fun, I recommend visiting a Mc Donald’s in Italy. You might not like hamburgers, but you are sure to be impressed with what they have been able to do to win their now loyal Italian customers. And, don’t forget to try McDonald’s WINE!!!