retail news in context, analysis with attitude

There is an interesting interview in Advertising Age with the appropriately named Jill McDonald, chief marketing officer for McDonald’s in the UK and Northern Europe, who makes statements that seem at variance with the fast feeder’s traditional approach: “It's all about ensuring that McDonald's is seen as a modern, relevant, progressive burger company … There's a lot less red and plastic, and lots more greens and purples coming in, as well more natural materials, more use of wood. We don't want to go for a cookie-cutter approach; we want variety.”

Excerpts:

On priorities… “Three years ago [when I joined], we really took a step back and looked at what we needed to do, because 2005 hadn't been a good year for the business or for the brand.

“We fixed the basics in restaurants in terms of processes and we franchised more -- when people own a restaurant they tend to run it particularly well -- and the banks are still happy to lend our franchisees money.

“Once the basics were in place, we invested in things like the new look and feel of the restaurants and improved the nutritional content of the food, reducing salt, fat and sugar and only using white chicken breast, free-range eggs and organic milk. Since we introduced Rainforest Alliance coffee beans, we are selling 10 million more cups of coffee than we were a year ago, up 20%.”

On obesity issues… “Obesity is genuinely a real problem and it's ridiculous to pretend it's anything otherwise. It is our lifestyle that is the problem -- but a brand that is as big as McDonald's and has a lot of families visiting it does have a role to play. We don't want to tell people what to do, but we provide customers with nutritional information so they can make informed choices.

“Also, nutritional science does advance, so we can continue to preserve the taste that people love while reducing the saturated-fat content, so that's a role we can play to help make realistic small changes that people can stick to in their daily lives.”

On how the economy affects marketing… “We are in a very good place because of the investment we've already put in and our affordability. We are going to be increasing our advertising budgets quite significantly this year.

“As I sit here now, the marketing plan I put in place for 2009 back in the autumn I haven't had to change because we are close enough to consumers to understand what we think we need to do. But it would be silly of me to sit here and say it ain't going to change this year at all.”

KC's View:
This actually makes the same point we were making above…it seems pretty clear that McDonald’s is in the market share business right now, and is doing everything it can to broaden its constituency and drive more customers into it stores and onto its drive-through lines.

Which ought to concern all of its competitors, from other fast feeders to supermarkets and convenience stores.