Ah, McDonald’s. where would we be without this most noble of fast food institutions? Well, I’d probably be able to see my toes when I look down in the shower, but that’s neither here nor there.
The important thing is, however you feel about this oft-controversial chain, there’s one thing nobody can deny: it’s a huge, huge deal. Since the inception of those famous Golden Arches (which first appeared in 1953 at a branch in Phoenix, Arizona), they’ve dominated the industry for almost seventy years.
Sure, we all have our favourites, and some places are dominated by rival products and restaurants, but still. For so many of us, McDonald’s remains the very last word in sweet, sweet burger-y goodness.
The question is, how did the humble business of Richard and Maurice McDonald become a global powerhouse? Business acumen played its part, but getting to the top and staying at the top are two totally different concepts. The key to that? Being versatile. Adapting.
Depending on where you live in the world, the menu you’re used to at your local McDonald’s may be super different to that of others. Global tastes are hugely varied, and the menu’s got to match them. This hasn’t been all that difficult for McDonald’s, who are famous for getting a little experimental at times.
Some gambles pay off, and others sure as heckles don’t. That’s the name of the game. With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the chain’s more peculiar attempts at satisfying global tastes. Hold on to your waistlines, friends, it’s going to be a bumpy, high-calorie ride.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. When it comes to super-fancy fine dining, McDonald’s isn’t really going to be your first port of call. If you’re the kind of diner who needs tablecloths, mandatory pants-wearing and the actual use of cutlery from your restaurants, you’ve probably come to the wrong place.
Nevertheless, though, McDonald’s have tried to step it up at times. The McLobster is an actual real thing. As Business Insider reports, It’s “pretty much lobster meat shoved in a hot dog bun with ‘McLobster sauce’ and lettuce.” This high-class treat makes occasional promotional appearances in parts of eastern Canada and New England, where… nobody really wants it.
Needless to say, McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish has been a menu mainstay for some years now. Sure, it’s never going to outsell the good ol’ fashioned hamburgers, but it’s a popular choice and it’s cemented its place among the chain’s success stories.
In comparison, the Ebi Filet-O-Shrimp burger might seem a little alien. Over in Japan, though, it’s a huge hit. A Panko-battered shrimp patty and a liberal serving of Ebi shrimp tempura sauce - who could say no to that? Well, I sure as heckles could, but that’s neither here nor there.
This delicacy made it into Sora News 24’s rundown of Japan’s most popular McDonald’s burgers back in 2012.
Speaking of Japan's McDonald’s market, this little doozy is probably the equivalent of a horror movie villain. You know, nobody really wants to see it, they thought it had met its demise several times over, but it just dang well keeps coming back to scare us.
The Western name for this one is the McGratin Croquette. It consists of shrimp, deep fried macaroni and potatoes. Needless to say, that’s an acquired taste right there. According to Business Insider, the Gurakoro was created especially for Japan, but the marketing failed to strike a chord with them. They also simply have other, more popular items, as we saw in the last entry. Nevertheless, this thing keeps cropping up occasionally in Japan.
So, yes. As we know, McDonald’s has gotten its deliciously greasy, broken-ice-cream-machine tendrils around the whole world now. Rumour has it that, if you stand still for too long anywhere on the planet, canny McDonald’s employees will build a new location right there around you.
This is great for company execs, of course, but it also presents a problem. To establish yourself somewhere like India, which isn’t really in your standard menu wheelhouse, you’ve got to adapt. Hence the McCurry Pan, curried vegetables in a creamy sauce presented in a ‘pan’ of crispy bread.
It’s a popular choice for vegetarian diners in the country. That’s a huge market, which explains why India saw the world’s first vegetarian McDonald’s outlets start to appear back in 2012.
Now, living in rainy old England as I do, I like the name of the Hula Burger. It makes me think of exotic vacations, sunshine and general happiness. That’s something I can 100% get behind.
Sadly, the reality of this item isn’t as bright and serene as that. This vaguely Hawaiian-inspired burger consisted of a grilled slice of pineapple with cheese, and was aimed at Catholics who would not eat meat on Fridays.
One of the company’s earlier missteps, this sorry concoction gained very little traction. It was soon dropped faster than Snoop Dogg when it’s hot, in favour of the Filet-O-Fish which was faring much better.
Personally, my favourite part of a McDonald’s meal is the dessert. I enjoy the burgers for what they are, sure, and I still maintain that those are the best fast food fries in the world, but McFlurries are where it’s really at for me.
When I’m in the mood for an apple pie served at seventeen trillion degrees, which will burn straight through the roof of my mouth and set my brain on fire, I’m down for that too. McFlurries are great, though, and I’m a little sad that I’ve never gotten to experience this Colombian treat: the Pineapple Oreo McFlurry.
An unusual-sounding combination, but First We Feast insists that it’s a great success in Latin America.
As we’ve already seen, McDonald’s are the chameleons of the fast food world. You might think that, due to local tastes, you’re safe from their greasy grasp, but then POW: they’ve dropped the McCurry and that’s a life you’re ALL about.
As with any big brand, though, sometimes you overextend yourself. Sometimes you try to venture into a market you’ve no business being in. As For The First Time reports, McDonald’s famous flirtations with serving pizza did not end well. Pizza Hut may have quaked in their cheesy boots for a little while, but ultimately, McDonald’s just weren’t up to the task of providing pizza that was both good enough and fast enough.
As the whole pizza debacle demonstrates, it’s super important to be yourself. Reach out and conquer as much of the market as you can, sure, but don’t forget what your brand is actually all about in the first place. Identity is key.
Drop those airs and graces, then, McDonald’s. Remember that your humble Egg McMuffin is the king of the breakfast game and work with that.
Over in China, an intriguing region twist is on the menu. You’re looking at the Sausage N’ Egg Twisty Pasta Breakfast, a noodle-y soup complete with those traditional breakfast items. The next time I’m in China, you’d better believe that one of these is going to become intimately acquainted with my face.
As a child, I had a lot of McDonald’s birthday parties. Do you remember those? Ronald McDonald himself was in attendance, and it was just about the most exciting thing that a little urchin like myself could imagine.
I just celebrated my 30th birthday, and I did not spend it with Ronald McDonald. That’s the thing, getting the brand to be taken more seriously by adults.
This is the reason why Harry Potter was released in super-serious adult editions (with special black and white covers, which evoked the dreary, do-your-taxes nature of adult life), and it’s also the reason why McDonald’s released the Arch Deluxe.
There was nothing all that unusual about the product itself. As Reader's Digest explains, it was just a burger, with peppered bacon and cheese. The issue was how it was marketed:
“…commercials for the Arch Deluxe showed Ronald McDonald playing “sophisticated” sports like golf and pool. More problematically, the ads also showed kids appearing disgusted by the burger.”
Why did this happen, again?
As we saw earlier, McDonald’s pizza (McPizza, as they became snarkily known) was just a step too far for the company. As creative as they can be with their menu, there are some things they just can’t do, and quality fast food pizza is a bit of a contradiction in terms.
Even so, there’s no keeping the taste of Italy out of their grasp entirely. In the Philippines, The Independent explains, McDonald’s offers the Chicken McDo with McSpaghetti, a combination of spaghetti, fried chicken and ground beef that other parts of the world are sorely lacking. That’d be a welcome menu addition any day of the week, as far as I’m concerned.
According to Reader’s Digest, Ray Krok (the businessman who set McDonald’s up to be the giant it is today) strongly opposed the idea of hot dogs on the McDonald’s menu. It was never going to be a super-healthy place for fitness fanatics, but the idea of mystery meat was just too much for him, it seems.
In the 90s, though, Krok’s reign was long since over, and the chain decided to give the McHotDog a shot. There’s nothing odd about a hot dog on a fast food menu, true enough, but the company was so well established at this point that it just didn’t fit.
Now, I’ve always been a staunch advocate of continental breakfast options. Like good-hearted people and positive vibes, you can never have too many continental breakfast options in the world.
I probably appreciate a McFlurry so darn much because I need something sweet after such a salt-tastic meal. But we’re not just talking about dessert choices, as the lucky costumers of McDonald’s Brazil know.
As an alternative to the Egg McMuffin and other savory breakfast choices, Brazilian outlets offer a sweet and simple chocolate croissant. It’s nothing revolutionary, sure, but it’s another item that would probably be welcome around the world. The McCafe range is starting to pick this one up, thankfully.
Now, don’t go running away with the false impression that I’m talking smack about purple here. Purple is my favourite colour, bar none. Even so, though, I can totally appreciate that it’s a powerful colour. There’s a time and a place for purple. Food, in my opinion, should always remain a purple-free zone.
There’s no purple in nature, friends. Other than beetroot, and that’s just odd. Do you know what else is odd? McDonald’s Taro Pie. Taro is a popular root vegetable in parts of Asia, but this is just beyond the pale. One of the brand’s rare savoury pies, this abomination also made a brief appearance in Hawaii.
Some things just become such parts of our lives that we wonder how we ever lived without them. We can barely imagine a time that they didn’t exist. Take smartphones, for instance. Relatively recently, the idea of a teeny little computer we could hold in the palm of our hands was just absurd.
The same’s true of McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches. Before the brand branched out a little, it was all about the hamburgers and fries. It wasn’t a place you could go for breakfast, not without making a whole string of questionable life decisions. Today, though, the once-impossible McGriddles Breakfast Sandwich is one of the most popular items on the menu.
As regulars at the Golden Arches will know, chicken has certainly found a natural home on the menu. Many of us would be lost without those sweet, sweet McNuggets. Chicken hasn’t always been that welcome, though. Just look what happened with McDonald’s tried to put Mexico on the menu.
It’s the same old problem again. I can appreciate a good chicken fajita, I really can, but McDonald’s isn’t going to be the place I go when I feel that hankering. It’s just a little too niche, as the brand goes. McFajitas (as I’m going to call them) did garner a modest following, but they just fizzled out. They can still be found at select locations in Canada, though.
McDonald’s India, as we’ve already seen, are certainly committed to their target audience. The country, as I say, proudly played host to some of the world’s first all-vegetarian McDonald’s outlets. That’s what it’s all about. You scope out a region’s particular needs and tastes, and you go right for the jugular in providing it.
That’s how you keep company execs rolling in cash a la Scrooge McDuck. That same spirit also lead to the creation of India’s own take on the Big Mac, dubbed the Chicken Maharajah Mac. Boasting two chicken patties and loaded with habanero sauce and jalapeños, it’s a spicy proposition for sure.
So, I’ve already waxed lyrical about the beautiful creation that is the McNugget. That’s one example of an item that was tentatively trialled, took off and has never, ever looked back. This mainstay is going absolutely nowhere.
In typical inspirational story fashion, though, that success didn’t just happen overnight. It took a lot of experimentation and hilarious errors to get there. One of these errors was the sheer, sheer awfulness that was the Onion Nugget. Debuting in the seventies, these were hunks of onion, fried and breaded nugget-style. They were horribly unpopular, but all was forgiven in 1980 when the McNugget was introduced.
Thanks to several of the products we’ve seen over the course of this rundown, McDonald’s has thoroughly established itself as a place of variety. A place of breakfast, as well as lunches and dinners.
Depending on where you happen to live in the world, those breakfast options will differ. In Brazil, for instance, we saw that good ol’ fashioned chocolate croissants are on the menu. Elsewhere, a more familiar McMuffin or McGriddles might be for you.
McDonald’s Mexico has also thrown their hat into the ring with the McMollett, an open breakfast sandwich loaded with beans and cheese. I wouldn’t mind getting in on that too.
In any line of work, the crucial thing is not to spread yourself too thin. If you have too much going on at once, it’s harder and harder to give any one thing the attention it deserves. You become like a Chinese buffet, which offers pizza just for the sake of having it on the menu. That’s some shoddy pizza and you know it, metaphorical Chinese buffet. What are you even doing?
We’ve seen McDonald’s trying to get their pasta on elsewhere in this rundown, and it’s not been too impressive. McSpaghetti, in the late eighties/early nineties, was definitely a step too far. This just isn’t what McDonald’s is about.
Now, this could just be me. I’m a huge, huge fan of spicy food, so make of that what you will. The important thing is, I totally dig India’s Chicken Maharajah Mac. If you’re as committed to the way of the jalapeno as I am, you’re going to want to head over to South Africa for a taste of the Jalapeño Chicken Triple.
This powerful burger, as you’ve probably guessed, is super spicy. It’s very similar to the aforementioned Maharajah Mac, only it throws a third chicken patty into the mix. You’ve got to appreciate that level of chutzpah, am I right?
References: Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, Brain Jet, First We Feast, Independent, How Stuff Works, Twisted Sifter.