The Secret Brazil Happy Meal McDonald’s Keeps Under Wraps

Looking for a traditional Brazilian dish of rice and beans while in town for the World Cup? Try McDonald’s.

After employees who rejected its regular menu of hamburgers and french fries on work breaks filed a complaint to prosecutors, the local operator of McDonald’s restaurants was required to provide dishes more in keeping with the local cuisine. While the meals don’t appear on behind-the-counter menu displays at the 816 McDonald’s across the South American country, they’re available to customers too. Just ask to see the “pratos executivos,” or “businessman’s specials.”

With 35,429 restaurants in 119 countries, McDonald’s has long offered food tailored to local tastes, from the McKafta in Egypt to the Filet O Shrimp in Japan and the McVeggie burger in India. While the Brazilian options are kept under wraps, they’re available for purchase to avoid criticism the restaurant is serving employees special meals customers can’t buy.

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“These rice and beans meals better satisfy the hunger,” Tamires Honorato, a 19-year-old cashier at a McDonald’s restaurant in Barueri, near Sao Paulo, said in an interview. “And it’s more like the meals we eat at home. People don’t have hamburgers every day.”

Photographer: Paulo Fridman/Bloomberg

A McDonald's employee prepares a meal with rice and beans at a McDonald's Corp. restaurant in Barueri, Brazil. Close

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Photographer: Paulo Fridman/Bloomberg

A McDonald's employee prepares a meal with rice and beans at a McDonald's Corp. restaurant in Barueri, Brazil.

It’s not just McDonald’s where rice and beans are the meal of choice. Sao Paulo restaurant Mani, where chef Helena Rizzo was named the world’s best female chef this year by the U.K. magazine Restaurant for dishes including the 78-real ($35.20) ox cheek plate, also serves up rice and beans to workers.

Hamburger Patties

“We always have to offer this dish,” said Giovana Baggio, a managing partner. “Otherwise workers complain.”

Brazil's Highs and Lows

The businessman’s specials list at McDonald’s, which is stashed under the counter until requested, looks just like the regular menu, including the company’s logo on the top. In addition to rice and beans, each meal comes with a choice of either chicken, fish or beef (the same patties as those served on the regular menu); a salad; water or juice; and an apple for dessert. In Sao Paulo, the meal costs 23 reais. That’s 4 reais more than the Big Mac combo.

A 2012 agreement with prosecutors to settle a six-year-old investigation required the McDonald’s operator, Arcos Dorados Holdings Inc., to provide traditional meals at no cost for their employees in order to claim tax breaks. The original complaint from the union representing 30,000 McDonald’s employees in the state of Sao Paulo said Big Macs and the rest of the food they were offered while on break weren’t healthy.

Weight Gain

“We have a philosophy to always be very transparent, so what we serve internally, we serve to our customers as well, and vice versa,” Ana Apolaro, the human resources director at the Brazilian unit of Buenos Aires-based Arcos Dorados, the world’s biggest McDonald’s operator, said in an April 17 interview. “But it’s not our marketing strategy to sell rice and beans. Surely you won’t see ads about them on TV.”

Press officials at McDonald’s Corp., the largest restaurant chain in the world, didn’t respond to e-mailed requests for comment or voicemails.

McDonald’s has run into trouble before over Big Macs and fries. In 2010, a Brazilian court in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul ordered Arcos Dorados to pay $14,000 to a former manager who said he gained about 66 pounds (30 kilos) in a decade while working at a McDonald’s and eating its sandwiches, court documents show.

Tourist Arrivals

“It’s important to understand that the routine diet of a worker doesn’t come only from inside a McDonald’s restaurant,” Arcos Dorados’s press office in Brazil said in an e-mailed response to questions. “All meals should be balanced, and people should engage in physical activities.”

The government forecasts 600,000 foreign tourists will attend World Cup matches scheduled to be played in 12 Brazilian cities from June 12 to July 13. As one of the eight official sponsors of the games, McDonald’s is creating sandwiches with ingredients to honor participating countries, including Italy and France, and sponsors a contest for children to run onto the field with players at the beginning of games.

Brazil has finished less than half of the infrastructure work proposed by the government for the World Cup, according to a tally by Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. Of the 167 projects announced, 68 are ready and the others are either incomplete, will be delivered after the games or were abandoned, it said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Denyse Godoy in Sao Paulo at dgodoy2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Walsh at bwalsh8@bloomberg.net; David Papadopoulos at papadopoulos@bloomberg.net Philip Revzin

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