June 12 (Reuters) – It may look and smell like McDonald’s, but it’s now Vkusno & tochka. The golden arches are gone, filet or fish is just a fish burger. Big Mac left Russia.
A new era of fast food and economic scene dawned in Russia on Sunday, as McDonald’s (MCD.N) Restaurants have opened their doors in Moscow with new Russian ownership and a new name that translates to “yummy and that’s it.”
The unveiling of renamed stores, more than three decades after the American burger giant first opened its doors in Moscow in a symbolic thaw between East and West, is once again a stark sign of a new world order. The reopening took place on Russia Day, a holiday that celebrates national pride.
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The fortunes of the chain, which McDonald’s sold when it left the country due to the conflict in Ukraine, could provide a test of how well the Russian economy can become more self-sufficient and withstand Western sanctions. Read more
On Sunday, dozens of people queued outside what was formerly the main McDonald’s restaurant on Pushkin Square in central Moscow. The store released a new slogan – a signature burger with two fries – as well as a slogan: “Name changes, love stays.”
The queue was much smaller than the thousands of people who flocked to the original McDonald’s opening there in 1990 during the Soviet era.
Sardana Donskaya, an IT worker who lined up 32 years ago to sample the first brand embodying Western capitalism, returned on Sunday to announce his successor.
Vkusno & tochka’s menu was smaller and did not offer Big Mac and some other burgers and desserts, such as McFlurry. The price of a double cheeseburger was 129 rubles ($2.31), compared to about 160 rubles at McDonald’s, and a fish burger was 169 rubles, compared to about 190 rubles previously.
Alexander Merkulov, director of quality at the new company, said that the composition of the burgers did not change and the equipment from McDonald’s did not change.
McDonald’s closed its Russian restaurants in March and said in mid-May that it had decided to leave the country altogether, one of the most notorious commercial departures since Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24.
In a sign of haste, the new owners had to rebrand in time for the launch, many of the packages of fries and burgers were plain white, as were the drink cups, while the takeaway bags were plain brown. The old McDonald’s logo was covered on the packaging of ketchup and other sauces with temporary black marks.
But Sergey, a 15-year-old customer, did not notice much difference.
“The taste has stayed the same,” he said while dressing up a chicken burger and fries. “Cola is different, but really there is no change in the burger.”
Better than a big Mac?
The main Moscow restaurant is among 15 rebranded outlets that opened in and around the capital on Sunday. Oleg Baruev, CEO of Vkusno & tochka, said the company plans to reopen 200 restaurants in Russia by the end of June and all 850 restaurants by the end of summer. See FACTBOX:
“We haven’t worked for three months,” said Rosana, manager of a Moscow branch due to open in July. “Everyone is very pleased.”
Baroev, who was appointed CEO of McDonald’s in Russia weeks before the conflict in Ukraine began, said the chain would retain its old McDonald’s interior, but would delete any references to its former name.
“Our goal is for our guests not to notice a difference in quality or ambiance,” Barov said at a news conference at the restaurant.
Siberian businessman Alexander Govor, the company’s new owner, told Reuters he would look to launch something similar to McDonald’s Big Mac.
“We don’t have the right to use some colors, we don’t have the right to use the golden arches, we don’t have the right to use any mention of McDonald’s,” he told Reuters.
“Big Mac is the story of McDonald’s,” he said. “We will definitely do something similar.” “We will try to do something better so that our visitors and guests love this dish.”
CEO Barov added that the company was looking for new suppliers for soft drinks as some of Coca-Cola’s stocks were running out. (KO.N)which suspends its sales in Russia. Baroev said all but 2% of the chain’s ingredients are sourced from Russia.
Not everyone was impressed.
Moments after the press conference, a man stood in front of the cameras holding a sign that read “Back the Big Mac”. Was quickly escorted by the restaurant staff.
New owner: I paid a small amount
Govor is one of many Russians who are seizing assets as hundreds of Western companies have fled. On Sunday, he said he paid a “nominal” figure “well below the market price” for McDonald’s Russia. McDonald’s, the world’s largest burger chain, took in a fee of up to $1.4 billion after the sale.
Russian authorities have said the US group has the right to buy back its restaurants within 15 years – though Gofort poured cold water on that possibility.
“They made it clear to me that they wouldn’t buy back,” he was quoted by Interfax as saying.
McDonald’s, which said Gofor will keep tens of thousands of employees of the chain for at least two years, was not immediately available to comment on the terms of the sale or its future Russian intentions.
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Reporting by Reuters. Editing by Josephine Mason and Praveen Shar
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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