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McDonald’s sets sights on local food… or, at least its version

Restaurant chain McDonald’s yesterday rolled out a new menu item in Italy built around the country’s iconic food staple, pasta. The new dish, “Insalata di pasta” is made up of bleached, processed white flour pasta with tuna, tomatoes, peppers, capers, and olives, and was rolled out at a premium price of €4.90 (currently about $6.33).

It’s nothing new for McDonald’s to take flavors from local food dishes and incorporate them into their menus, of course. Customers in Japan can order a fried shrimp patty, customers in India can dine at a totally vegetarian McDonald’s, and diners in Australia get vegemite as a condiment.

Historically, McDonald’s has not had a great reputation in terms of corporate social responsibility. McDonald’s has fought an image as a greedy megachain that sources exclusively from high-cruelty and unhealthy factory farms, uses a predominance of GMO ingredients, produces flavorless food (unless you count “salt” and “grease” as flavors), and engages in a strange form of capitalism wherein killing your customers with unhealthy products somehow makes you money.

The company has made strides, to their credit. In 2012, they declared that they’d no longer source pork from factory farms that use gestation crates. In February of this year, their Filet-O-Fish started carrying the Marine Stewardship Council’s ecolabel for sustainable seafood.

Detractors will likely say that McDonald’s is just reacting to market trends for healthier foods. It’s clear that, globally, meat consumption is dropping and awareness of the incredible price society is paying for cheap fast food is rising. Sales have slowed and the company has not faired well since the economy recovered. Its stock has been outperformed within its industry over the last five years, and has seen a pretty substantial stalling since the economy recovered and people shifted their consumption away from the cheapest available food.

McDonald’s has underperformed in its industry since the economy started to recover in 2009.
(screen shot from CNN Financial News)

Last year capped a five year decline in chicken and pork sales, and worldwide, demand for meat has stalled even as human populations continue to rise. And on a more corporate level, McDonald’s has failed to impress local food in many countries, most notoriously when they had to close all their Bolivia stores due to 14 years of mounting losses and inability to compete with the local flavor of the country’s staple: empanadas.

So how do you think the insalata di pasta will fair in Italy, the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement?

Photos from Shutterstock and from CNN Financial.

Written by Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride.


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