“Hesburger, the most famous Finnish franchise, arrives to Iran.” This was the headline in the Iranian media for the opening of the first Hesburger in Tehran. There are extremely important points for Finnish companies in this piece of news.
Hesburger is the biggest hamburger restaurant chain in Finland. But how big is Finland? The population of the greater Tehran area is about 15 millions (about 3 times of Finland’s population). Iran’s population is 80 millions. 74% lives in urban areas. 63% of the total population are 15-54 years old (and 24% are 0-14). The literacy rate is over 90% and the majority of this young population has higher education. So if Hesburger succeeds in the Iranian market, do you think it will still need to have a restaurant in Finland?
Iran is full of local fast food restaurants. Some of them are local or national chains. Their quality varies widely (Hesburger would be ranked as just OK).
The young Iranian society is thirsty for modernisation in different ways. It has already created its own modern lifestyle despite all the global sanctions and internal limitations. There are unofficial Apple stores, fake KFCs, an Iranian version of Starbucks, etc. Without any doubt, the young Iranians would queue in front of the first Burger King or Taco Bell as Finns did in Helsinki. Starbucks would grow like mushroom in Tehran -as Espresso House does in Helsinki.
The Iranian market is full of opportunities for foreign companies. But internal and international policies strictly limit the access to this heavenly market. 40 years after the 1979 revolution, McDonald’s still hasn't had the chance to get back there (even though they tried it a few times).
How Hesburger with a US$ 120 million revenue can win a US$ 25 billion McDonald’s in this battle? The answer is: with Finland's neutrality in global politics.
Iran is an old country with an adventurous history. It’s difficult to find a nation, which has not left a trace in the Iranians' historical memory. By the way, history is very alive in that society. People talk about the Persian Empire like it was yesterday. The Iranians are highly sensitive to foreign interference in their country. The illusion of conspiracy is well embedded in their subconscious. The British, the Americans and the Russians are blamed for almost every incident. The officials warn non-stop about the enemies.
If you ask the Iranians what do they think about Finland, most probably you will hear Nokia. If you ask further, they reply that it is a country similar to Sweden (and Sweden has a very positive image in their mind). And I can imagine that nowadays they fantasise about the happiest country in the world.
Being politically neutral and having no image (or just some stereotypical positive images) in the Iranians' mind is the key that opens the gate of the Iranian market to the Finnish companies. Use this unique advantage before your giant rivals win the game, like they usually do!