The big yellow arches are synonymous with hamburgers throughout the world. But nowhere more so than in the UAE, where Emirati teenagers recently voted McDonald's their favourite brand.Underpinning the sheer size of the global fast-food chain, McDonald's last month announced worldwide profits of US$1.41 billion (Dh5.17bn) for the second quarter, a 14.6 per cent increase compared with the same period last year.Sales growth in stores across the world increased at a rate of 5.1 per cent last month. Europe performed strongly, up 5.3 per cent, while Asia, Africa and the Middle East posted figures of 4 per cent.The UAE did even better, with sales growth this year of 7 to 8 per cent, according to Rafic Fakih, the managing director for Emirates Fast Food, which runs and owns McDonald's outlets in the UAE.
He explains how the burger giant is trying to offer customers a range of healthy food and why residents across the Emirates continue to flock to the brand.
Given the high rate of obesity in the UAE, how do you marry selling fast food and being responsible in the community?
We offer people choice. We have salads, fruit, milk, soft drinks, fruit juices and we let people decide for themselves.So it is all about choice.
Yes, we offer people anything they eat at home - bread, potatoes, meat, chicken and salad. You need a balanced diet. You have to walk and go out to exercise. We are not here to decide what people do.
Do you also help customers understand what they eat?
Absolutely, we inform the customer what they eat when they buy. On each tray mat they have all the information on the food, the ingredients, the fat and sugar content. People have to decide, they are educated and informed.
What about children?
Their mother has to decide. We advertise for the mother, not for the children. The Happy Meal is orange juice, or a drink, they can choose between cheeseburger, nuggets, hamburger, or veggie burger and fruit or fries. We don't show the Happy Meal, we don't show the product. If we do show any of the product, it is the orange juice and the fruit.
Which are the best-selling items on the menu here in the UAE?
The McChicken sells well. Chicken is more popular than meat here. In the Far East they like fish and Europe it's meat. We also have introduced the McArabia Chicken and Kofta, which are also popular here.
Which is your favourite item?
I normally eat a plain cheeseburger.
McDonald's menu seems to taste the same anywhere in the world. How can a global company achieve such consistency?
It's a huge logistical process. We have approved suppliers worldwide, and normally the volume of the system is so big because suppliers are only willing to work for you. One of the differences you might taste is the flour in the bread, it changes in each country and area of the world. Everything else, sauces and meat, it's the same.
Why do you think McDonald's is currently more popular in the UAE than elsewhere?
McDonald's is popular everywhere, but the penetration here helps. The more restaurants you have, the more people know your food. They get to know your quality, role in the community and service. It's a lot of things that people notice slowly when using us. The UAE is also a young country that has a high number of tourists compared to the population.
What sales growth are you seeing at the moment?
Before 2009 we saw double-digit growth in our stores, but since then it has been single digit. In that time, we were growing stores and if you grow like we did, at between 12 to 14 stores each year, it has an effect on the same-store growth.
So sales growth fell because your customers were spread out over more stores?
Yes. But in June this year we again saw double-digit growth in our stores, as more tourists and visitors came to the country. There was also an effect from people shopping more during Dubai Summer Surprises.
From / The National