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Russia’s McDonald’s heir growing quickly, in for the long haul By Reuters

Russia’s McDonald’s heir growing quickly, in for the long haul By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view shows self-service kiosks advertising the Big Hit burger, the new alternative to the Big Mac, at a restaurant of the Vkusno & tochka fast food chain, the Russian successor brand to McDonald’s, in Moscow, Russia March 1, 2023. REUTERS/Ev

By Olga Popova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The successor to McDonald’s restaurants in Russia is growing faster than forecast, its owner said at an event to mark the new chain’s first anniversary on Monday, though customers gave mixed reviews to the new and “improved” taste.

McDonald’s Corp (NYSE:) closed its Russian restaurants soon after Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022, eventually selling to a local licensee, Alexander Govor.

One year on, Vkusno & tochka, or “Tasty & that’s it”, is reopening restaurants slightly faster than planned, hoping to have more than 900 by the end of 2023, and is serving around two million people each day, Govor said.

The chain has sold more than 24 million of its Big Mac replacement burgers, the Big Hit, CEO Oleg Paroev said.

The company believes it has improved on the recipe, including with changes to the burger’s signature sauce. Some, but not all, customers agreed.

“For me the quality hasn’t dropped, I really like it,” customer Natalya Fadeeva told Reuters. “The taste, the quality, I like it all.”

Zhalol, 23, said: “I’ve been abroad and ate at McDonald’s there. I think they have not succeeded (in replacing McDonald’s). The taste has changed, the fries definitely have at least.”

Hamstrung by agreements with McDonald’s, Vkusno & tochka, can not open restaurants in countries where McDonald’s already has a presence.

Govor said partners in Belarus and Kazakhstan were so far refusing to cooperate, something he put down to problems with the local authorities.

“But if they allow them, we are ready to sign an agreement with them at any moment,” Govor said.

Russian authorities and Govor have said McDonald’s has an option to buy back its Russia restaurants within 15 years.

McDonald’s has not commented on whether it has an option to return to Russia. It would find a market where Vkusno & tochka is the master franchisee should it do so.

“We did not come through six months, a year, to make money,” Govor said. “We’re here for the long haul.”