Sunday, July 31, 2011

McDonald's French Revolution

They don't like to admit it, of course, but the French are the #2 consumers of McDonald's in the world. And now McDo, as it's known, plans to start serving just-baked baguettes. 

Rest assured: we'll be hearing a lot about McDough in the months to come!

A new line of French breakfast items (baguettes, butter, jam, etc.) will be rolled out across France next month in the chain's 130 McCafés (separate counters offering coffee, pastries and buns); baguette sandwiches will follow next year. 

The arrival of the baguette, the company says, is just another step in its efforts to cater more successfully to French food habits but also to boost breakfast sales, which now account for just 1% of McDonald's sales in France. 

Le Figaro reports McDo will work with local producers: The baguettes will be baked on the spot, with dough from the French company Groupe Holder, which already provides the pastries for McCafé. The butter will come from the French cooperative of Isigny and the jam from "a traditional producer in the Pyrenees." 

The French still eat nine times more sandwiches than hamburgers and 60% of these sandwiches are made on baguettes. The favorite baguette sandwich remains the traditional ham and butter. 

"The French love the baguette. We are just progressively responding to a natural demand," says the senior VP of McDonald's for France and Southern Europe.  

France is, of course, land of the famed maître boulanger, home to the world-renowned bakers at Paul and Poilâne and LeNôtre. It’s a country where the once- and often twice-a-day stroll to the neighborhood boulangerie, to buy bread just minutes from the oven, is a cherished tradition. The French are passionate about their breads and it’s not unusual for a family to buy its baguettes from one shop, its sourdough or pain de mie from another, its tarte tatin from yet a third.

Supermarkets now sell packaged breads of all sorts, of course, and many large grocery chains have full bakeries within them. Yet the French make a strong distinction between breads baked the traditional or artisanal way and those that come from “industrial” or “commercial” bakeries. To call itself a boulangerie, a shop must sell only breads made from dough crafted on the premises. Stores that sell bread baked from prepared doughs--or breads baked in large production kitchens, for example--must call themselves depots de pain.

In food circles worldwide, there’s been a lot of talk lately about a crisis in French cuisine. France is letting go of too many of its grand culinary traditions, they say, and, as a result, has lost its status as the global gastronomic leader. People blame the government and high taxes, culinary globalization, the demise of the small family-owned farm, the two-career family and, of course, the spread of fast-food chains.

Read the original baguette article in English in Time Magazine here or in French, in Le Figaro, here.

Photo: "Le Petit Parisien" by Willy Ronis, Paris, 1952.


  1. Almost speechless - France is the last country I would expect McDonald's to be popular

  2. This almost made me want to rush to MacDonalds, you made it sound so good! But when the French do their own sandwiches so well and you can buy them in any boulangerie, why would I?

  3. Whether you like McDo's or not, you have to hand it to their marketing team. You may not like their food or go to their restaurants for coffee, but what they're doing in France is another good reason I am so glad we own their stock.

    I also have to say I worry that they may make the whole world fat.

  4. This is sad--though makes me appreciate living in Carmel-by-the-Sea even more...we have no chain stores. (except a few high-end retailer like Tiffany tucked discreetly into the small, flower-bedecked outdoor mall.)

    McDonald's is a ghastly red & yellow plastic blight. Mowing down the rain forests to produce chemically laden meat that uses up more grains and water than the 6B people on earth. The waste from 20 B food animals is destroying the oceans. Not to mention all the disease that unhealthy faux foods create-- obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancers to name a few.

    One could say it provides cheap meals for people that would otherwise go hungry---but that isn't even true. Quinoa and fresh veggies (including those that can be grown at home or in collective community gardens) would be a healthy, nutrient rich, unwasteful choice.

    This is disappointing news. And definitely is not progress.

  5. The Spanish have their Pans & Co. that makes sandwiches on baguette and is very popular, although with most people having 2 hours for their lunch, I don't see much need for fast food!
    I'm sorry if France loses its passion for food. It is one of the things that most people associate with France and one of its greatest assets.

  6. And now they are also making their burgers with Charolais beef and Comté cheese. French chef friend checked it out and said 'not bad'. The bun was his biggest criticism.

  7. Oh no! not McDough's in France - Loved this post and especially that delightful photo by Willy Ronis - I think it would have to be the lovliest photo ever taken!

  8. I remember speaking to a French audience about 15 years ago and hearing complaints about the invasion of American fast food into their country. My response at the time was to question them on why they haven't come up with a version of their own.

    I said that the Italians had created the Panini, why didn't they do their own version of fast food. I even through in my wife's idea of Suzie Q's Ragouts. Something she thought up in the early 70's. All the great French stews could be served with French Bread and individual bottles of wine (for those over 21). I thought it a great idea and even thought of how to package, freeze and reheat to deliver a great tasting "fast" meal. I said, "certainly the French can do a better job then we can."

    That was 15 years ago, and the French have not yet created their own version of fast food, so now MacDonalds seems to be doing it for them and it sounds like they will love it. So why couldn't they do it for themselves? All I can think of is a lack of imagination! The French are great at somethings but apparently not in this area. c'est dommage.



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