Progress promise

McDonald’s phenomenal success is built upon a commitment to quality food

McDonald’s is one of the most instantly recognisable fast food brands in the world, serving huge amounts of customers every year, and prides itself upon high standards, quick service and value for money. The first McDonald’s store was opened in the UK in 1974, and today the company estimates that it serves over 2.5 million people every day. This domination of the fast food market has seen McDonald’s generate revenues of £1.6 billion in 2006, in the UK alone. In its commitment to serving the UK market, McDonald’s aim is to use locally grown products to produce its food.

The company concentrates on using ingredients and produce grown in the UK, like potatoes from Norfolk and Lincolnshire, and dairy products from the South and the Midlands. To this end, McDonald’s has recently taken up the initiative to meet consumer demands for quality food by outlining the source of its ingredients and the nutritional value of its food, as well as offering more choice on its menu for customers.

This development of product ranges, based on fresh, organic ingredients, and localised produce, requires certain regulations, and suppliers must ensure high levels of hygiene, as well as humane and responsible operations. High standards of food supply to the company have been ensured through McDonald’s working alongside government and health officials to produce improvements.

In 2007, the company introduced a new non-hydrogenated cooking oil used in the production of French fries, Chicken McNuggets and apple pies in UK restaurants, which has significantly reduced the levels of Trans Fatty Acids (TFA) in its food. This change to using a blend of sunflower and rapeseed oils has not altered the taste of McDonald’s products or raised its saturated fat content, and is indicative of the company’s drive to improve the quality of the cooking process in its foods.

Matt Howe, senior vice president, chief support officer of McDonald’s UK, takes up the story: “Over a number of years, the company has been developing the recipes used in the production of its food. Last year, McDonalds UK, as part of the European market, committed to reduce the levels of TFA to as low as it possibly could, and move away from hydrogenated cooking oils. As of April 2007, the company introduced non-hydrogenated cooking oil into all of its restaurants, eight months ahead of the intended schedule.” The speed of this introduction was influenced by developments and wide availability of rapeseed and sunflower oil, and cost was never a factor once the decision to change had been made.

This use of non-hydrogenated cooking oil is not confined to McDonald’s restaurants, as it is also requested of its suppliers, as Matt continues: “Within the supply chain, for example in the production of French fries and chicken products, the company has ensured that hydrogenated cooking oil is not used. McDonald’s completed the phasing-in of the change throughout its restaurants by April 20th 2007.”

On the need for change within the process of producing and cooking its food, Matt explains the company’s approach: “McDonald’s has food strategies focused around three key areas: innovation, meaning the development of new products; formulation, regarding recipe changes and improvements; and information, providing customers with nutiritonal information on the packaging and a web site with further relevant information. Over the last four years, the company has reviewed recipes, and looked at how we could improve the nutritional content of the core menu. We have reduced the amount of salt in our Happy Meals and Chicken McNuggets by 30 per cent, as well as 24 per cent in our fries. As already touched upon, another area we focused on was our cooking oil, and how we could improve its nutritional profile. It is simple to reduce TFA’s through using palm oils as an example but this increases saturated fats, for us the key was to address TFA’s without increasing saturated fat levels. We have been working with the agricultural industry in the UK to encourage farmers to grow high oleic rapeseed, and as supplies increased, this enabled the change.”

McDonald’s, as one of the global leaders in the fast food industry, is keen to promote the duality of its role, as Matt elaborates: “I believe McDonald’s food can be part of a balanced diet. The company provides its customers with the food they want; McDonald’s is famous for hamburgers, yet people also come to eat meals, which can be constructed in many different ways through an innovative, progressive menu with many different drink options from water, orange juice to milk shakes and a side salad instead of fries. We have made changes to our recipes and product formulations, as well as improving the content and providing choice. This is being assisted by an abundance of information that aids customers in making the right choice for them.”

As food consumers continue to focus upon the health of food on the market, and the quality of end products, fast food chains must follow this trend. However, as Matt understands, this process creates challenges for the company: “I think McDonald’s has responded to the healthy eating climate well in a number of areas, yet it is also very committed to its core products. The trends taking place are beyond just health, it is more about real, natural, fresh, wholesome products – the emphasis is on the quality of food. Consumers are concerned with where food is from, what is in it, and the ethics of how ingredients are produced. The discussion basis is very broad, and McDonald’s is at the forefront of these trends.”

In terms of the progression of McDonald’s UK market, Matt is optimistic for the future: “I think that the UK is still a very challenging marketplace, and the high street remains a competitive domain. In the informal eating-out market overall, there has not been significant growth within the last few years, so the focus is on innovation not only within food, but also regarding the environment where people eat and the service they receive. As people’s lifestyles continue to change, their preferences for eating out must beadapted. McDonald’s is well placed to tap into this market, rooted in the strong base it has created over the years. New restaurant locations and food innovations will ensure McDonald’s position in the market,” he concludes.