Monday, September 11, 2006


Fast-food chains are having it their way again, and loving it. Despite the best efforts of healthy-eating campaigners it seems that they are losing the battle against junk food. The burger is back - and restaurants are throwing away thousands of salads a day. A Times survey in six British cities this week confirmed that the industry's brief flirtation with healthy eating is over.

During a day of observation in branches of McDonald's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken only two customers in Manchester and one in London ordered a salad. No one in Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham or Maidstone was tempted. Sales of other healthy options such as "grapple bags" of apple slices, carrot sticks and fruit juice were only slightly better, and in several restaurants there were no fresh salad options in stock at all. Hassan Ahmed, the manager of the Burger King on Martineau Way in Birmingham, said that his customers were not interested in using the restaurant to pursue the "healthy, balanced diet" endorsed on the company's website. "We buy in three cases of salad each week. I only order them in because I have to. But we bin most of them at the end of the week because they don't sell. "It's the same with the bags of fruit, we waste more than we sell. Last week we sold 28 salads and it's usually about half that."

The picture is the same in fast-food restaurants across the country. Damian Wills, the manager of a McDonald's in Filton, Bristol, said that his customers had stopped ordering salads as soon as the novelty wore off. "As with most promotions, when they were introduced they were `the flavour of the month' - and about a month later people had moved on. People will always go for chips over lettuce." A Burger King spokesman said that salads were a "very small part of our sales".

Salads and sandwiches make up less than 10 per cent of McDonald's sales. As Steve Easterbrook, the president of McDonald's UK, announced this year: "We are a burger business. Our traditional menu - hamburger, cheeseburger, Big Mac, quarterpounder, chicken sandwich - is front and centre of our plans." He probably would not have said that a year ago at the height of Jamie Oliver's school dinners campaign and amid the success of Morgan Spurlock's stomach-churning documentary Super Size Me, which raised awareness of the health risks posed by fast food.

This came after a period of sustained pressure on the fast-food industry, during which McDonald's reported its first loss in almost 50 years and restaurant chains were forced into concessions to healthy-eating campaigners, including providing more varied menus and publishing extensive nutritional and sourcing information about their products.

Now it appears that the industry has weathered the storm. A ban on junk food advertising for children is no nearer despite Britain having the highest level of obesity and the highest rate of "on-the-go" eating in Europe. Oliver is reduced to swearing at parents for continuing to feed their children fatty foods and sugary fizzy drinks despite all the warnings.

Predictably, the counter-attack against healthy eating is fiercest in the United States. A new generation of "indulgent offerings" for the hungrier American has culminated in the Burger King Stacker Quad: four beef patties, four slices of cheese, four strips of bacon and no vegetables in a bun. It contains 1,000 calories and as much saturated fats as one person should consume in a day and a half, according to US government recomendations. Fast-food companies say that they are merely providing what their customers want. "We listened to consumers who said they wanted to eat fresh fruit," a spokesman for Wendy's, an American burger chain, said. "Apparently they lied."


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