Macca's has a battle on its hands


A guest arrives late at the motel. I inquire if she has eaten dinner, as the local restaurants are about to close.

She slides me a guilty look. "I had a Mac attack," she says.

"I know that's wicked, but it was quick and easy; it'll see me through."

I don't pass judgment, but I am interested by her guilty reaction. She obviously didn't choose the healthy McWrap option but went the way of the Quarter Pounder with cheese and a side of fries.

I am no fan of McDonald's fast food, but, clearly, I am in the minority. Every day, 69 million people around the world chow down on Macca's burgers and chips.

Other startling statistics include that there are more than 35,000 McDonald's restaurants globally, the chain sells 75 hamburgers every second and its iconic arches are more widely recognised than the Christian cross.

In 2011, the fast-food giant set its sights on China with the express aim of opening one outlet a day.

But the Asia Pacific market - which includes Australia - has proved a challenge to the burger behemoth, with sales in this sector falling an astonishing 7.3 per cent in the past quarter.

The reasons given are food scares in Asia, increased competition in the United States and a trend towards healthier eating in Australia.

As a rule, I do not like seeing businesses doing it tough, but I cannot muster much sympathy for McDonald's.

The business targets children and preys on families from lower socio-economic groups, both of whom can ill afford to graze on Macca's high-fat, high-cholesterol offerings.

Just recently, I spotted the golden arches sprouting from the dusty, down-trodden streets of Nadi, Fiji. One thing the Fijian nationals do not need is to supplement their already high-carb diet with Big Macs, fries and soft drinks.

But poor diet and its subsequent health issues is not just a Third World problem. Australia is in the grip of an obesity epidemic brought on by a combination of overeating and little exercise.

As a nation, we are now classified as one of the fattest in the world, with more than half our population deemed overweight or obese.

If the heavyweight trend continues at current levels, by 2025 almost 80 per cent of all Australian adults and a third of all children will be overweight or obese.

Fast-food outlets and their aggressive marketing are key players in this impending nightmare and McDonald's, as the leader in the field, must shoulder much of the responsibility.

But it appears there is a backlash and younger people are voting with their feet. McDonald's research shows that Gen Y - those aged between 18 and 32 - are not enamoured with burgers and fries and do not even rate the fast-food company among their top 10 favourite restaurants. Similarly, the health-conscious millennials are also shunning the golden arches.

Both groups are critical to the survival of McDonald's and the chain is hell-bent on winning them over. Central to this strategy was the launch last year of the McWrap, which McDonald's spent two years developing.

But it appears the much-hyped wrap has failed to impress and sales continue to tumble.

McDonald's has evolved over time - introducing new menu items and refurbishing its restaurants - but, in the end, it is offering mass-produced fast food.

With tastes changing and a younger generation becoming more discerning about what they eat, Macca's has a battle on its hands.

And that is a good thing. Power to the people and the healthier option.

Junk the junk food and live a little longer.