McPopular: How Does McDonald's Special Sauce Fare Against European Competitors?
Heidi Klum photo by Fernando Estel
McDonald's in Bremen
A Former Ex-Pat Chews The Fat About Who Wins The Fast Food Game In Germany
My second week in Hamburg, Germany I saw the red H with blue stars for the first time. It was a little different than the golden M that dotted the landscape of my suburban American childhood. The novelty of a foreign fast food franchise excited me. "What's that? Germany's version of McDonald's?” I asked my German fiancé. The opportunity to discover a new hamburger in Hamburg of all places made me a bit giddy.
"Nein. That is Hesburger." My fiancé grimaced while emphasizing the S in Hesburger- like he was on the verge of spitting. (People familiar only with Hans and Franz of SNL fame might think that is how a German usually enunciates his consonants-but having been in the country for two weeks I knew better). We stopped and watched as a man and a woman ate Hesburgers over a creamsicle colored outdoor bar table. The cheesburgers they ate had the same lifeless pallor that Mickey Dees' did. Looked like they had the same crinkly paper and processed cheeze too.
"So why don't you like to eat there?"
"It's not McDonald's," he said as we continued our walk toward the Hamburg Rathaus.
McDonald's has made its culinary and cultural stamp on Europe much like it has the rest of the world. Big, bold, brash and fast; many Europeans would even say that McDonald's typifies American culture.
In Germany there are plenty of examples of McDonald's ubiquitousness. As a young girl in high school I remember the fall of the Berlin wall and news reports of newly freed East Germany's embrace of democracy and the no-relationship-to-Bertolt Brecht Mac. In 2007 Berlin was also the site of an outraged protest against capitalistic McDonald's in the Bohemian Kreuzberg district. Open up a newspaper or magazine and you might see Heidi Klum schilling for the big M with her pert, Teutonic smile. Even though Burger King, Subway, and Kentucky Fried Chicken have also been setting up shop in Germany, McDonalds is still the symbol for all things American. Most Germans I've known are ambivalent about the fast food giants' role in their food culture-similar to how they feel about the US in general.
So With All the Golden Arches Angst, Why Don't Germans Eat at Hesburger instead of McDonald's?
My then- fiancé-now-husband was right: Hesburger was not German but a Finnish import. In fact, Hesburger is one of the most successful burger ventures in Finland and can be found throughout the Baltic States. According to their website the chain's 2007 sales topped at 150 million Euros and they employ over 4,000 people. McDonald's earnings ranged in the billions that same year. Not a bad showing for the considerably smaller fast food franchise.
So why, whenever Hesburger is mentioned, do the Germans I know crinkle their faces in disgust?
My husband says it is a matter of taste. He rates Hesburger in taste and quality far below McDonald's. "They put too much of their awful sauce on the burgers. It's just... (Shudders)."
Writer Justin Henry reviewed Hesburger in the blog A Hamburger Today saying:
"The megahamburger was considerably wider than a Big Mac and included lettuce, mayonnaise, pickles, tomatoes, and cheese. The noticeably high quality of these toppings helped mask the two thin and tasteless beef patties that made up the rest of the sandwich, apparently about all you can expect to get in a €7.3 (about US$9.30) fast-food meal...
Overall, Hesburger felt like one step up in food quality and service from McDonald's, but at a rather steep price. Sure, the Scandinavian-designed interior with wood tables and chairs was nice, but I'm not sure I'm ready to pay almost US$10 for a fast food meal. Finns seem to disagree, as this place was packed even at 3 a.m. on a subsequent visit (there was even a bouncer on hand)."
Another food franchise that was born and breaded in Europe is Nordsee, a kind of German Skippers with a salty, Northern German edge: breaded, deep fried fish is served inside a traditional German bun known as Broetchen. Nordsee is found in both Germany and Britain with possibility of further expansion now that Kamps has acquired the unique fast fish restaurant. Having dined at Nordsee I can say that it is an extraordinarily clean and bright place with a much higher quality product than the fare served in most fast food chains in the USA. But it is also a bit more spendy than a McDonald's dollar menu, especially if you want a full meal.
So without further ado I will now throw down the top 6 reasons I think McDonald's definitely has the special sauce that makes it the fast food leader in Europe:
McDonald's always tries to cater to the tastes of the countries it serves. In Hamburg, for example, I encountered a McBavarian which was a McDonald’s version of a Wiener schnitzel; sandwiched between two sesame seed buns, of course.
Love or hate America-McDonald's is still the symbol of globalization and democracy for many countries.
Need I say more?
Personally I would disagree with 4. I have always found McDonald's cloying and the fries are nothing but salty, hollowed out grease sticks. My husband, on the other hand, likes a mean McRib. After polishing if a large order of grease fries and a Coke he tells me, "There it is again-that good old bad old taste."
Yes. You read that right. McDonald's is a unique experience for many people in European countries. Why do I say this? Let’s take Germany as an example. In Germany either you dine with candles and white tablecloths, or you get a bite to eat at the local Imbiss or Stehcafe. Imbiss' and Stehcafes are noted for their fast service and greasy food-but not so much for their environment. These fast food islands are usually found in busy cities and only have bar tables to stand and eat over-hence the name "stand cafe." McDonald's lets you sit down and provides services that the local Imbiss doesn't have, like a play place for the kiddos and bathrooms.
Perhaps other fast food restaurants originating in Europe have similar amenities, but they are only copycats of the big M.
McDonald's is still the granddaddy of fast food culture and has the advertising dollars to back it up. Also, the other franchises don't have the soporific likes of Ronald McDonald or the beatific smile of Heidi Klum at their disposal.
Can European Fast Food Franchises Really Compete?
Now that I have laid out the reasons I think McDonald's still beats out their European competitors do I agree that this should be so? No. In my opinion it is a bit of a shame that McDonald's dominates in all cultures and climes. Much like when I went to the shopping district in Hamburg for the first time and realized the shops were playing American music. I was in Germany! Why should I be listening to Brittany Spears in Germany?
If I had my druthers there would only be fast food restaurants that served two all vegan sun burgers, sauce sugar free, organic lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a whole grain, bio-dynamic, sesame seed bun. Actually, I despise fast food culture but I'll leave that to another hub.
In my opinion, if the fast food chains in Europe
want to be able to compete with McDonald's they will need to take the fast food
game to a whole 'nother level. Perhaps Hesburger could one day breach the
shores of the USA
if they got a mascot like Ronald McDonald. Maybe a
friendly Viking with a sappy grin and a huge belly? Oh, guess that would
be copyright infringement since Asterix and Obelix already exist. A big fish then? You say that has already been done too? Hmmm...guess I'll have to think on it.
Hesburger in Finland
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