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. The company 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, health and economic reasons for McDonald’s 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, all of which have huge lines of eagerly awaiting customers. 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 really “cooks 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 cultural imperialism. Such ideologies do exist to an extent but they certainly didn’t cause the demise of Burger King, Subway or Coca Cola who are all doing extremely well in Bolivia. Furthermore, 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 Bolivian’s I know tell me the same thing, that it was too expensive. For the same price you could get a three course meal at 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. They pulled out of seven countries worldwide where profits were slim in order to focus on core markets. Bolivia was one of those seven.
Since 2002 Bolivia has seen unprecedented economic growth. The middle class regularly eat at expensive restaurants that didn’t even exist a few years ago. Food courts in large shopping malls have become increasingly fashionable; an aspect of modern western life that Bolivians are readily embracing despite the crowds and noise.
All things considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if McDonald’s does a lot better this time around.