Good news for those who enjoy the occasional Big Mac – McDonald’s has announced that they will be returning to Bolivia in 2015. The first restaurant is expected to open in Santa Cruz and, if successful, other franchises will pop up around the country.
The hamburger behemoth closed its last Bolivian restaurant in 2002 after five years of lukewarm trading. McDonald’s didn’t offer an official reason for their departure which has led to a lot of speculation.
In 2011, an hour-long documentary called “Why McDonald’s went broke in Bolivia” was released on YouTube examining possible cultural and economic reasons for the chains demise. However, many argue that the documentary is intrinsically flawed due to its obvious anti-American and globalisation agenda.
The video was discovered by Hispanic Speaking News who published their own bias and erroneous version of events. The story went viral and poorly researched clickbait articles popped up on Facebook newsfeeds across the world. Many even neglected to mention that McDonald’s left Bolivia 13 years ago, reporting the story as if it were current news. The core premise of the documentary and subsequent web articles is that Bolivians are fundamentally against the concept of fast food.
“Fast-food represents the complete opposite of what Bolivians consider a meal should be. To be a good meal, food has to have been prepared with love, dedication, certain hygiene standards and proper cook time”.
This is complete idealistic rubbish – Bolivians love fast food. There is a hamburger stall or fried chicken joint on every street of La Paz, all of which have huge lines of eagerly awaiting customers. What’s more, Hygiene standards in Bolivia are among the worst in Latin America as any expat can attest to. Finally, whether or not the bad-tempered Cholita serving her 101st lunchtime Aji de Lengua does in fact “cook her food with love” is highly debatable.
The second flawed argument is that McDonald’s was rejected on a cultural level and that poor sales were a result of the Bolivian ideologies of anti-globalisation and anti-cultural imperialism. Such ideologies do exist to an extent but they certainly haven’t caused the demise of Burger King, Subway or Coca Cola who are all doing extremely well in Bolivia. On the contrary, within the last year we have seen the arrival of KFC, TGIF’s and Starbucks.
So why did the golden arches crumble in Bolivia? All the Bolivians I know tell me the same thing, it was far too expensive, costing as much as a fancy restaurant.
Most Bolivian’s simply didn’t have enough money to keep going back to McDonald’s and those that did had better, classier options available. More importantly, however, 2002 was the year McDonald’s did a large-scale global restructure, pulling out of seven countries worldwide where profits were slim in order to focus on core markets. Bolivia was one of those seven.
Since McDonald’s left in 2002, Bolivia has seen unprecedented economic growth. Nowadays, the middle class regularly eat at expensive restaurants that didn’t even exist a short time ago. Food courts in large shopping malls have become increasingly fashionable, an aspect of modern western life that Bolivians are all too ready to embrace.
All things considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if McDonald’s does a lot better this time around.
We are still yet to see the golden arches in Bolivia.