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Stirring the pot: McDonald's serving pasta in Italy

A screen shot of the McDonald's Italy website shows its
A screen shot of the McDonald's Italy website shows

Infamnia! McDonald’s Italy rolled out a new menu item featuring the country’s most beloved culinary staple: pasta.

The fast-food giant is partnering with Italian pasta brand Barilla to serve a pasta salad with tuna, tomatoes, peppers, capers and olives with a price of 4.90 euros. Roberto Masi, CEO of McDonald's Italy, said in a statement the new offering was “responding to the tastes of the Italians.”

Bob O'Brien, global senior vice president of the foodservice division of market research firm the NPD Group, was optimistic. “It’s not a bad idea to serve the food everybody eats,” he said. “McDonald’s has been fairly successful doing products with a different flavor profile.”

McDonald’s will need good execution to pull off serving pasta to Italians, O’Brien said. Going with a cold salad as opposed to a hot pasta dish was a good idea from an operational standpoint. “I think trying to do hot pasta could be tricky for McDonald’s.”

This is hardly McDonald’s first foray into more local fare at its international locations: In Japan, diners can order a pork teriyaki burger or fried shrimp patty sandwich; and McDonald’s Australia offers Vegemite as a condiment for English muffins.

The company has even dabbled in pasta before. In the Philippines, the menu includes McSpaghetti topped with a tomato-and-meat sauce (it looks like the red sauce we’re familiar with, but it’s sweeter than the American version).

McDonald’s France began offering in 2012 a McBaguette burger with Swiss cheese and mustard sauce. Although it was rolled out as a limited-time item, McDonald’s French menu still includes Le Petit McBaguette

But winning over Italy — the country that kicked off the Slow Food movement in response to McDonald’s entrance to the market in 1986 — might be an even tougher challenge than wooing the French.

When McDonald’s debuted “McItaly” menu items in 2010 with the support of Italy’s agriculture minister Luca Zaia, it sparked controversy, with rival politicians and Italian media criticizing the partnership.

In an opinion piece in national newspaper La Repubblica, Carlo Petrini, founder and president of Slow Food, wrote, “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... globalizing a taste means above all standardizing it to the point of impoverishing it and making it disappear.”