The beginning of February has been a particularly time-starved period for Mediolana’s CSO, so the news that McDonald’s – that purveyor of speed-defined food – is planning a massive expansion in Italy seems particularly apposite. Like many of its eurozone partners, the Italian economy is reeling from the ongoing financial crisis and its fallout: the official unemployment rate has nudged up over 11%, while youth unemployment is more than three times this figure at 37%. With foreign direct investment having fallen c.30% since 2007, the junk food icon’s US$457m McProposition is a hard one to resist: quite perceptively, McDonald’s recognises that giving people attractively-priced, meat-rich meals in a depression is likely to be a winning formula.
Yet the genius of McDonald’s is not restricted to exploiting gaps in mature, post-development markets on a downward trajectory. Across the Adriatic (and following an epic cultural, economic and gastronomic battle stretching across three decades), the Golden Arches are now colonising Bosnia and Herzegovina: following the opening of the country’s first McDonald’s on Marshall Tito Street in the capital Sarajevo, five outlets are now operating in the heart-shaped Balkan territory. In Bosnia, McDonald’s is seen (at least by some) as a measure of international investor confidence in the country, as well as a symbol of capitalist affluence: far from being a cheap and filling eat, a Big Mac meal is viewed as an entrance ticket to perceived global standards of normality.
This is an extraordinary triumph of marketing, because in two adjacent economies – Bosnia and Herzegovina shares a sea border with Italy – with many shared characteristics and a high future possibility of convergence, McDonald’s has nevertheless accomplished the incredibly difficult task of making the same products encapsulate very different ideals: an Italian’s ‘bargain’ staple is a Bosnian’s aspirational treat. And though in both European states, the Golden Arches are looked upon by many with suspicion if not outright contempt – Italy is the home of the Slow Food movement, while Bosnia’s home-centred food culture with a high percentage of domestic produce is the antithesis of almost everything that McDonald’s stands for – enough people in these markets remain convinced, either actively or passively, about the value that the American fast food behemoth brings into their lives to make McDonald’s presence more than viable at this point in time.