French freshen up le Big Mac

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In the pitiless Franco-American war which rages (according to some) for cultural domination of the globe, one side may be about to score an important victory. But which side?

McDonalds, synonymous with American culture on six continents, will today launch a new burger - for the French market, and the French palate, only.

Betraying the American heritage of ketchup and mayonnaise-impregnated sweetness, the new burger - the McDeluxe - will be based on the principles of French cuisine.

It will have a steak hache (hamburger) at the centre but it will also have a "delicate" old mustard and pepper sauce, a slice of cheddar cheese, fresh onion slices and a whole lettuce leaf.

The aim is to revitalise McDonalds' slowing sales in France by appealing to French adult preferences for fresh food with complicated tastes.

Although McDonalds op-ened 100 new restaurants in France last year, bringing its total to more than 500, the sales figures of individual outlets are slowing.

The McDeluxe will sell for just over pounds 2, only a little more than a Big Mac. The title is already used by McDonalds in other countries but the French recipe will only be sold in France.

Its launch today may precipitate a Franco-Belgian-American burger taste war. Quick, the Belgian fast-food chain which is second in the French market to McDonalds, will respond on Monday with a new "hamburger on toast".

Mark Watkins, an analyst of the French hotel and restaurant market, says that McDonalds has been affected by the general slow-down in the French economy. Beyond that, he told Le Monde, there is a worldwide "phenonemon of boredom" with fast food, which can only be partly answered by juggling with new recipes.

"They are also going to have do something about the atmosphere in the restaurants. Children go mostly for the ambience."

In the US, McDonalds has responded to slowing sales by slashing its prices. Its French operation seems, however, to have absorbed French cultural influences other than culinary ones. In a country in which prices often seem mysteriously uniform, McDonalds says that it has no plans to start a burger price war.