Kazakhstan's Nazarbayev Clan Sinks Its Teeth into McDonald's
Fast-food giant McDonald's will open its first restaurant in the oil-rich Central Asian state of Kazakhstan next year, in partnership with an energy tycoon related by marriage to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The company will open its first burger bar at an unspecified location in Kazakhstan in the second half of 2015, with more to follow, it announced on November 12.
McDonald’s is heading into Kazakhstan with good connections guaranteed: It will be partnering with prominent gas tycoon Kairat Boranbayev, whose daughter Alima is married to Nazarbayev’s grandson, Aysultan Nazarbayev.
“Our agreement with Kairat will enable us to continue to build our brand,” Doug Goare, president of McDonald’s Europe, said of the foray into Kazakhstan, where insiders say that the key to business success is often not what you know but who you know.
The Kazakhstan launch comes as McDonald’s comes under massive pressure in neighboring Russia, where more than half of its 440 locations are under investigation over alleged health and safety violations (which the company denies) and nine outlets have been temporarily closed.
Kazakhstan is a close economic partner of Russia’s, but has been keen to distance itself from Moscow as Western sanctions bite, making it abundantly clear that its doors are always open to foreign investors.
Goare described the launch as part of McDonald’s strategy of “looking at opportunities to enter new markets with development potential,” and Kazakhstan is an obvious regional target. The sprawling country may have a population of just 17 million people, but its inhabitants have a voracious appetite for an oil-fueled consumer lifestyle. Shopping malls have sprung up all over the country, and Western fast-food joints like Burger King and KFC enjoy huge popularity.
McDonald’s did not specify any locations for its outlets, but the company is likely to be eyeing Almaty – the financial capital and Kazakhstan’s richest city – first, with Astana, the capital, and the oil-rich towns in the west of the country not far behind.
McDonald’s said its burger joints in Kazakhstan would offer “iconic favorites such as the Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets and French fries.” But the company – which is famous for adapting menus to cater for local tastes – did not specify if it would be riding into horse-meat-mad Kazakhstan with an equine burger on the menu.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter. Support Eurasianet: Help keep our journalism open to all, and influenced by none.