McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE:MCD) has recently made a big push in the vast Chinese market. The global fast-food giant announced its plans to expand operations in China by hiring 75,000 new employees and push the total number of McDonald’s outlets in China above 2,000 by 2014. Along with that plan, the fast-food behemoth also unveiled some new menu items designed to cater to Chinese taste buds.
The newly expanded regional menu, which was introduced over the recent Dragon Boat Festival long weekend, included several rice dishes in an effort to attract more dinner customers, Kenneth Chan, chief executive officer of McDonalds China, said. But one Beijing blogger, Valentina Luo, who writes for English-language community magazine That’s Beijing, sampled the new additions, calling the new dishes “embarrassing.”
According to a report by Xinhua, the new products are being sold at all 1,700 McDonald’s chains on the mainland. “Our new dining options are examples of how McDonald’s innovates to bring more options to our Chinese customers, because that’s what they want,” Chan told Xinhua. To which Luo responded, “They want rice, right, Kenneth?”
Luo reviewed a dish called the Rice Fun Wrap, which proved to be anything but. “If you take a look inside the Rice Fun Wrap ... it looks like a vegetarian hand-roll with a slice of chicken someone accidentally dropped in the kitchen. ‘What shall we do with this chicken I dropped, boss?’ ‘That’s our new Chinese menu, son,’” she wrote in her review.
Luo also noted that the rice addition to the menu came during a high-profile food scare after reports found that rice in the southern province of Hunan had been tainted with dangerous toxic metal chemical cadmium. Luo’s distaste for the food, however, had nothing to do with that scandal, but it certainly didn’t help. “The rice, fried to a brown and even drier than the lettuce leaves [in a salad], was produced in northeast city [of] Harbin ... maybe [Chan] hasn’t heard of the [expletive deleted] rice scandal that’s clearly being covered up in [the northeast province of] Heilongjiang.”
Many characterize McDonald’s new menu as an effort to compete with China’s leading foreign fast-food company, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Though KFC, owned by Yum Brands (NYSE: YUM), has suffered some losses, especially during the height of the bird flu scare earlier this year, the chicken company still seems to be the junk food of choice for the Chinese. Part of KFC’s popularity does go hand in hand with the company’s efforts to include local flavors, like Beijing chicken wraps (prepared in a similar style as the capital’s famous Peking duck), congee rice porridge and other rice dishes -- all of which have been successful.
But McDonald’s misguided efforts at adopting local Chinese dishes proved to be a failure, at least for Luo, who finished her biting review with a rhetorical question: “Seriously, McDonald’s, 2,000 years of gastronomic genius, and this is how you treat my country’s ancient cuisine?”