Fast food and globalization: between export and adaptation of flavors

Japanese McDonald's fast food as evidence of c...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Marin Enault

Every 3 hours a new McDonald’s restaurant opens in the world. This simple figure allows us to glimpse the power of the fast food chains, a pure product of the globalization. To study the influence and the development of these restaurants allows us to see most clearly the face of globalization. If we understand this concept as “the emergence of worldwide markets and communications that increasingly ignore national boundaries”, it is interesting to notice that at the same time as they ignore national barriers, these multinationals also adapt themselves to countries’ specificities. It then seemed interesting to me to study these restaurants. First of all I shall concentrate on the creation of the fast food as a consequence of globalization. Then, the opposite viewpoint will be examined, that is how fast food owes or wishes to adapt itself to local frames.

Globalization in the culinary domain is the export of a food and its specialities towards foreign countries. More particularly, in the field of the fast food it is necessary to notice the major origin of this export: the United States. In the post Second World War Era, the United States has exported its culture massively, in particular its culinary culture. So the first one McDonald’s outside the United States opened in 1967 in Canada, before arriving in 1971 in Europe (the Netherlands). Since then, the burger has continued to see growth in popularity.

Nowadays the chain McDonald’s possesses more 31,000 restaurants in 120 different countries. This increase in importance comes along with a standardization of the tastes. The plurality of the tastes is questioned by these multinationals, creating a unique taste, intended for mass production. Acculturation for some, the superior power of the industry of the fast food exports its idea of  food. So, the “Big Mac” is known all over the world and acts like an ambassador of American cooking, to the detriment of the rich local cooking, passed from generation to generation. Through the globalization, fast food proposes a standardization of the cooking and export the same culinary standards everywhere around the world.

Nevertheless, if the fast food is well and truly a product of globalization, it remains dependent on the host country’s culture. If globalization allows a distribution without barrier, it is left by standards which do not fade. To conquer new markets, restaurant chains have to adapt their product. The unique taste does not any more succeed in seducing only by its exotic image. The first adaptation that fast food have to make concern the product in itself, that is its taste. McDonald’s very early understood this necessity, so the examples of “glocalization” are not lacking. This neologism born in Japan proposes a new definition of the globalization. It is a concept allying the global trends to the local realities: think global but act locally.

So, to seduce the French consumers, fervent followers of their national food, McDonald’s proposed burgers with real French bread (McBaguette) and with real cheese, benefiting from a label checking their French origin (AOC: controlled designation of origin). Outside Europe, this strategy has a lot of success, particulary in Asia. So, Indonesia possesses a burger with rice (McRice) whereas Japan possesses its own teriyaki burger. This glocalisation of products is a new fact entering in a global protest movement of the permanent Americanization of fast food. Firms are no more content with exporting the same product but begin to analyze the real demands of countries, in particular to mitigate a lack of novelty.

The second adaptation also establishes itself on a deeper request of the consumers but in another domain: religion. So, Indian McDonald’s burgers do not possess pork but chicken, to not hurt the faith over this animal. Globalization also pulls a plurality of the religions mixed within the same country. North Africa mmigrants’ strong presence in France, often of Muslim faith, brought the chain of fast food Quick to propose burgers with hallal meat. This adaptation made for the various religions proves well that globalization creates its own limits. A unique product is not exportable any more in the same way everywhere around the world.

Globalization thus allowed the fast food industry to develop. Nevertheless, if during numerous years, fast food meant Americanization of the tastes, things changed. It is necessary to see from now on this phenomenon between globalization and glocalization: export while adapting itself to the local cultures. This movement was impulsed by the customers, not being satisfied with an unwavering uniqueness of products.

What is interesting with the study of the fast food in touch with the globalization is that it does not concern only the food, but much more the culture. The phenomenon of globalization cannot break all the barriers to create a homogeneous international culture. To convince yourself, you just have to eat sushi outside Japan. If the taste is different from the original one, it remains that we eat them with chopsticks. So the export of the cultural codes is often easier than that of the tastes, that what explains the new importance given to the glocalization in fast food restaurants.

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2 thoughts on “Fast food and globalization: between export and adaptation of flavors

  1. Pingback: Why brilliant ideas get shot down | SoshiTech

  2. Pingback: Globalization in Japan | JAPANsociology

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