McDonald’s, the fast food chain, which has 161 stores in the Gulf and 220 in the whole of the Middle East, has launched McArabia, a chicken sandwich that caters to the local Arab customer.“We launched it yesterday. The bread is coming from the UK only for the first week and will then come from our bakery in Riyadh,” Rafic Fakih, managing director of McDonald’s in the UAE told Arabian Business. “Always, a few years after we start in a country, we begin to cater to the latest taste,” he added. The new sandwich, made of two grilled chicken patties, dressed in Arabic flatbread, and seasoned with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and garlic sauce is very close to the traditional chicken shawerma or shish taouk sandwich, Arabs are accustomed to. “This is a permanent product. It has a local Arabic taste,” says Fakih. “The bread is close to Arabic bread; the chicken is grilled with a garlic sauce. We named it McArabia because it has Arabic bread and an Arabic taste. We are targeting everybody.” McDonald’s, like many other fast food chains, was hit by a boycott of western brands including fast food chains. The ongoing campaign prompted many companies to emphasize they were 100% locally owned, and that the ingredients were not imported from the West. Yet Fakih says this is no longer part of the equation when making business decisions. “This has nothing to do with the boycott. We don’t feel any more [the effects] of the boycott in general,” he says. “McDonald’s was certainly hurt by the boycott, but this has now largely lost its momentum — although a war in Iraq could change that,” says David Edwards of IMES Consulting in Saudi Arabia, an independent, international marketing consultancy practice that focuses on food and beverage industries. “The response to that [the boycott] was to emphasise the local ownership and sourcing, which is a more effective strategy than launching a new variety of sandwich. I don’t think the launching of this product has been driven by the boycott, although I do suspect that the timing may have been influenced — it gives a positive local message about McDonald’s at just the right time,” added Edwards.Ricarda Ruecker, director of marketing and communications for McDonald’s in the Middle East, says the new product was not an ad hoc creation but something that was thought out and deliberately part of a long term strategy. “We develop the product over a long period of time because we go through product testing, and customer research and what we normally do is product promotion with different tastes, a taste of France, Italy and so on,” said Ruecker. “The tests we did before were outstanding and this why we developed McArabia. This won’t be a normal product promotion, but is a permanent product. We will never be a shawerma place. We meet the Arabic tastes, but in the McDonalds way,” she added. McDonald’s biggest market in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia where it has 79 stores, followed by Kuwait with 37. In the coming week, McArabia will be launched in Jordan.
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