Dasvidania to McSochi Spirit, Hello Burger Cold War
The flavor of savoring of McDonald’s menu fare continues to be out of political favor among authorities in Moscow these days, as the world’s leading quick service restaurant chain is under increased scrutiny by the food police,
While the Tverskoy Court did not say “Let them Eat RusBurgers instead of Big Macs and Royal Deluxe cheeseburgers,” the result may well be just that for Russians if efforts of the nation’s Federal Service for Consumer Rights (Rospotrebnadzor) result in the shutdown of more McDonald’s restaurants.
On August 30 McDonald’s announced that six of its units in Moscow, the greater Moscow region, Yekaterinburg and Sochi were closed based on the court’s decision following complaints made by the agency about food safety and inaccurate claims of product ingredient content.
What a difference a half-year makes, as so much has happened since McDonald’s was front and center as the “official restaurant” of the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi February 7-23, when it served as a major sponsor and was one of the event’s contracted caterers to feed athletes, support staff and journalists during the games.
Since then the Russians have annexed Crimea, where the Golden Arches in Savastopol have been eclipsed by the bright red and white RusBurger banner, and Russian-backed rebel forces in the eastern Ukraine continue to battle the established government. As the hot war continues to heat up, a cold war on the economic front is freezing trade between Russia and much of the West. Following sanctions slapped on Russia by the EU, Norway, USA, Canada and Australia, Moscow has banned food imports from those countries reckoned to be worth approximately £5.7 billion per annum.
Caught in the crossfire is McDonald’s. Regarded as an American icon around the world, the fast food giant has been doing business in Russia since 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Iron Curtain. These days it operates more than 400 outlets in the country and employs about 37,000 people. More than 100 of its units are now feared to be subject to closure by the government.
“We are closely studying the content of the agency’s (Rospotrebnadzor)documents to determine what should be done to re-open the restaurants as soon as possible,” stated McDonald’s on its corporate website. “We do not agree with the court’s decision and will appeal against it in accordance with the procedures established by the law. Our main priority is to serve our customers with top quality menu items. We will continue taking care of our employees and will do our best to continue the success of McDonald’s business in Russia.”
The chain, according to Rospotrebnadzor, is allegedly guilty of misleading customers in its information about the content of fat, protein and carbohydrates in products ranging from cheeseburgers, ice cream and milk shakes to filet-o-fish and chicken sandwiches. Furthermore, it is claimed that during inspections conducted at McDonald’s restaurants from August 18-20, “numerous violations of the sanitary legislation were revealed.” Furthermore, in July Russia's consumer safety regulator claimed that investigators found harmful bacteria E.coli in some of McDonald's wraps and salads.
The Russian government’s microscopic investigations of McDonald’s operations are viewed by some outside observes in both political and food industry circles as a blatant political response to Western sanctions.
“It’s Russian retaliation,” according to analyst Yulia Bushueva. “McDonald’s is a prominent symbol of the US. It is a meaningful target. I don’t recall McDonald’s having consumer safety problems of such a scale in more than two decades of presence in Russia.”
Meanwhile, the Dublin, Ohio, USA-headquartered Wendy’s Restaurant Group has shelved plans to build 180 restaurants in Russia over the next 10 years in cooperation with Russia’s Wenrus Restaurant Group. Three years into the project, only eight units had opened for business, all of which have or will be closed.
"Unfortunately, the new leadership of Wenrus has not expressed interest in growing Wendy’s business in Russia, nor shown they have the resources to successfully operate the existing restaurants on a long-term basis," said Wendy’s spokesman Bob Bertini in an e-mailed statement to the Business Insider website. "As a result, we have decided not to continue business in Russia at this time."
Taste of Russia: Czar Burgers & Bogatyr
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the fast food front, all seems to be peachy keen at RusBurger restaurants, which proudly serves Czar Burgers boasting Russian veal along with lemonade made of Slavic pears .
The relatively small chain of quick service restaurants promotes itself as a purveyor of the “Taste of Russia.” In addition to burgers and fries, it serves up the Bogatyr, a sandwich named after hero warriors of ancient Russia.
“Unlike Western fast food chains that offer prepacked surrogates, RusBurger has made a bet on fresh Russian beef and vegetables. Consumers are tired of tastelessness and are missing the taste of Russia. Ours is better,” the company boasts on its website. Incidentally, that site (www.rusburger.com) was up and running when this story was filed on August 31. The same was not the case with the McDonald’s Russia website (www.mcdonalds.com). Vistors logging on to that address received the following message: “The page you are looking for is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.”
On the other hand, no problems existed at Burger King’s Russia website (www.burgerking.ru).
Two years ago Burger King Worldwide Holdings Inc. formed a joint venture with its largest franchisee in Russia, Burger Rus, and Russian investment bank VTB Capital, in a bid to gain greater market share the country’s fast-growing quick service restaurant sector.
At the time, with only 54 Burger King restaurants operating in Russia, it made a commitment to opening several hundred units over the next few years. With McDonald’s current problems, Burger King’s “Home of the Whopper” would seem to be in a good position to attract new business.