McDonald’s UAE bucks trend as customers spurn healthy food

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Nutrition, Uae

McDonald’s may have been introducing healthier options to its global menus, but there has been little interest in items beyond burgers and fries in the UAE.

Orders like salads and fruit “don’t work​”, according to the managing director of McDonald’s UAE, himself a regular customer at the fast-food chain.

They’re not buying more salads. We put fruit, they’re not buying fruit​,” said Rafic Fakih. ​“I think it’s because people don’t eat out every day. And when they do, they like to opt for food that might have a little more calories or sugar​.”

Customers in the UAE are used to eating salads and fruit at home, and only visit McDonald’s for convenience, or to eat what isn’t available in their own pantries, he says.

Instead of pulling the healthier options from the menu, Fakih says his chain has been striving to improve the health credentials of its full offering. 

Last year it reduced the fat content and halved the calorie count of its classic mayonnaise. It also began cooking fried food using a blend of sunflower and canola oil that has 80% less saturated fat than the oil it had previously used.

After it has been used, the oil is then sent to a factory in Jebel Ali to be turned into a bio-diesel for trucks, as part of a global initiative by McDonald’s.

So far, vehicles powered by the former fry oil have travelled some 7m kilometres across the UAE since 2011.

We are using better technology to make our product healthier, but retaining the same taste​,” Fakih told Arabian Business​.

When technology improved in processing, we used it to give the same taste but with better nutritional value. Now, there is a possibility from the technological point of view to use good oil with an affordable price. At the factory where we process the food, the technology is so advanced now that you can do such drastic solutions​.”

As the chain struggles in other markets, it has been seeing growth at the UAE’s 158 stores. 

With each one serving on average around 500,000 customers per year, profits increased by 8% in 2016, and the chain aims to have 30 new stores open by the end of next year.

Much of this success, according to Fakih, is due to the quality of MCDonald’s food, which he says is better than what most people are used to eating at home.

What do you eat at home? Bread? McDonald’s bread is better quality. The meat is better quality, because it’s very well conserved; the chicken, everything. And it’s audited 100 times.​”

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