BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Business  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
E-Commerce
Economy
Market Data
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 12:29 GMT
Burger King cheers Big Mac retreat
Child and adult with Ronald McDonald statue
Bye bye Ronald McDonald

As McDonald's long-running global expansion falters, with plans afoot to quit three countries, BBC News Online discovers how Bolivians are reacting to the loss of the fast food giant.

All eight McDonald's restaurants in Bolivia have closed their doors for the last time.

The Andean nation is the first country to lose its franchise since McDonald's announced last month plans to pull out of three countries in Latin America and the Middle East.


It was very expensive and the food was bland

Carlos Hidalgo
Local analysts believe the loss of the company is a bad sign for South America's poorest country.

But rival burger chain Burger King is hoping it could benefit from the withdrawal.

Rise and fall

When McDonald's arrived in the exclusive South Zone of La Paz in October 1997, Bolivians stood patiently in a queue that ran seven blocks just to find out what the world's most famous hamburgers tasted like.

On Saturday, the queues were not much longer than seven people, as the fast-food chain went out with more of a whimper than a bang.

The lack of interest in the chance to eat one final Big Mac spoke volumes about why the firm's "golden arches" have failed to secure their foundations in Bolivia.

'Too expensive'

"I ate there at first when it was the fashion," said Carlos Hidalgo as he sat chomping a hotdog bought from a street stall.


My children always loved McDonald's. I hope they come back one day.

René Chambi Vera

"But it was very expensive and the food was bland. This is much tastier than a McDonald's."

In a country where average earnings are less than £50 per month, the number of people willing to spend more than £2 on a burger and chips was always going to be limited.

"In other countries like England or the US McDonald's is a cheap option, but here you can buy a burger for two Bolivianos (£0.17; $0.27)," said Edson Ribero, chef at a local fast-food chain that sells pizzas and steak sandwiches for less than £1.

"This is why McDonald's failed. It was not competitive in the market."

Longstanding customers

But those who did go for one last meal were sad to see Ronald and co leave town.

"We went to the first restaurant when it opened in 1997 and we've been customers ever since," explained René Chambi Vera as he left the Miraflores restaurant in La Paz with his family.

"My children always loved McDonald's. I hope they come back one day."

Blow for staff

It is not only the customers who are left unhappy.

There are also the 300 staff who lost their jobs, including franchise manager Robert Udler.

Bolivian children eating at a McDonald's restaurant in La Paz
Enjoying their last McDonald's meal

Only a fortnight earlier he had insisted that McDonald's future in Bolivia was secure.

But he was forced to eat his words when the corporation informed him Bolivia was one of the countries in which returns from the business were "insignificant compared to the size of the investment."

"I am so surprised at what is happening," he said, before refusing to make further comment.

Bad sign for business?

Local analysts and business people fear that losing such a recognisable trademark is a bad sign for Bolivia.

"When McDonald's arrives it shows a kind of opening or modernising in a country," said La Paz economist Napoleon Pacheco.

"Them leaving demonstrates the effect on consumers of a four year recession and 12% unemployment."

Kurt Jurgensen, a Bolivian businessman who saw his Domino's Pizza franchise close earlier this year, was even more damning.

"If the largest multi-national has failed, how is a smaller company going to risk investing here?" he asked.

But for the other US fast-food franchise still operating in the country the loss of an opponent has created a golden opportunity.

"We have to win those customers," said Samuel Doria Medina, head of the Burger King franchise.

"If McDonald's leaving creates more demand we will have to open more restaurants."

See also:

13 Nov 02 | Business
08 Nov 02 | Business
07 Nov 02 | Business
22 Oct 02 | Business
25 Jul 02 | Americas
05 Jun 02 | Business
19 Apr 02 | Business
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Business stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Business stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes