McDonald’s Takes on Italian Cuisine, in Italy

Arguably the world’s largest burger chain teams up with the world's leading pasta firm.

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Mike Blake / REUTERS

The much-lauded Mediterranean diet seems a world away from mass-produced fast food, and so eyebrows were naturally raised when McDonald’s signed a deal with one of Italy’s oldest pasta manufacturers.

Arguably the world’s largest burger chain has teamed up with the world’s leading pasta maker Barilla, a 136-year-old firm based in Parma, to collaborate on new creations. To that end, McDonald’s has just launched a $6.30 (4.90 euro) pasta salad described as “a balanced and skillful mix of tuna, tomatoes, peppers, capers and olives, seasoned with a pinch of oregano and salt.”

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While one Italian newspaper deemed the unlikely union as “the devil and holy water,” according to the Guardian, others in the global food sector have been more positive. “It’s not a bad idea to serve the food everybody eats,” Bob O’Brien, of market research firm NPD Group, told NBC News. “McDonald’s has been fairly successful doing products with a different flavor profile.”

However, Italy has traditionally been amongst the least receptive nations when it comes to McDonald’s signature processed fodder. The company’s first foray into the Italian market in 1986 was the spark that ignited the global Slow Food movement.

And when McDonald’s launched the McItaly burger — featuring a beef patty, Asiago cheese and artichoke spread — in 2010, there was national uproar when then Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia claimed it would “globalize the identity of Italian agriculture.”

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Carlo Petrini, founder and president of Slow Food, was markedly less impressed. “I would have advised the minister to be a bit more cautious before embracing a cause in which he is entrusting an important brand like Italy to a multinational which has turned marketing into its creed,” he wrote in an open letter published on the front page of La Repubblica newspaper at the time.

McDonald’s has built its reputation on standardized burgers that taste the same in every branch, but the company still attempts to cater to the whims of different countries. On Friday, Japanese gluttons welcomed back the Mega Potato, a huge box of golden fries costing around $5 that measures the equivalent of two large orders, according to Japan Today.

Naturally, all these mixed messages are getting people riled up — even the very young. Nine-year-old Hannah Robertson, of Kelowna, B.C., berated McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson at the firm’s annual shareholders meeting in Chicago on Thursday, according to NPR. “It would be nice if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time,” she scolded Thompson, who Forbes reports earns around $4 million a year.

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