Project Wonderful

Friday, July 12, 2013

McDonald's and Bolivia: Not A Victory Over Fast Food

Over the past couple of weeks you may have noticed (or will soon begin to notice) a lot of blogs  and websites talking about how McDonald's has decided to close all of their restaurants and leave the country of Bolivia. Every one of these blogs touts it as a big a win for healthy eating. "This South American country isn’t falling for the barrage of advertising and fast food cooking methods that so easily engulf countries like the United States." says one tinfoil hatted fear monger.

But the problem is that this isn't really a victory against a multi-billion-dollar corporation. The truth of the matter is that Bolivians LOVE fast food and corporate chains like Burger King and Subway - along with over 20 pizza joints, fried chicken chains, hot dog stands and several international corporations all make a tasty profit hocking their greasy grub in the Bolivian capital of Santa Cruz.

Not to mention that McDonald's shuttered the last of its 8 restaurants over 11 years ago - back in 2002 - after operating in the country for over 14 years.

This is hardly breaking news, yet everyone seems to be talking about it. 

The reason why is that a recent documentary titled "Por qué quebró McDonald’s en Bolivia" (Why did McDonald’s Bolivia go Broke,) helped to stoke the fires of interest in the story. In it, the documentary paints a picture of an evil corporate empire taking advantage of the poor Bolivian country but was finally driven out of existence by the will of the people. Sort of a David and Goliath kind of deal.

However this also isn't true. 

Blogger Monica Heinrich posted about this almost two years ago, highlighting the things that the documentary got wrong. For one thing, McDonald's didn't go bankrupt, they closed after restructuring their operation in Bolivia and several other countries. There's a big difference there. 

Monica - who lived in Bolivia at the time McDonald's was there - said the biggest problem with the restaurant wasn't so much the food, but the traffic. Lines were long and as Monica states, if you tried to get fast food at either lunch or dinner time, the last thing you got was anything considered "fast."

Look, I'm no fan of Mickey-D's. I think their food is absolute crap. When your oatmeal has more sugar and calories than a Snickers bar, (and only 10 calories less than a cheeseburger) and you bill this as a "wholesome choice" for breakfast, I have some pretty big issues with this. 

With the average Bolivian earning a little under $500 a month in salary after taxes, it's a more likely scenario that McDonald's just couldn't deliver a product at a value to Bolivian consumers.

Anti-corporate voices will have you thinking that the Bolivian public shunned the American franchise, but that's just not the case. 

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