The world’s largest restaurant chain, McDonald’s, has announced a rise in sales indicating a revival of its fortunes in Europe. The chain experienced a range of bad publicity last year, culminating in the film Super Size Me. McDonald’s has been diligent in its efforts to cater for changing consumer trends, but it needs to ensure this focus is sustained.

Sales in those McDonald’s European stores open for more than a year rose 5.4% in January 2005 compared with last year. Overall, the chain’s sales rose 5.2% last month, with growth in the US rising at its slowest rate since April 2003. However, the company’s figures were boosted as newly launched items from its more health focused, but also more expensive, menu proved a hit.

McDonald’s supported the changes to its menu by running a campaign that involved distributing discount coupons to UK households and promoting the nutritional content of its fastfood. Yet it must not let its focus slip in continuing to cater for an increasingly sophisticated customer base – the days when ‘junk food’ was king may be drawing to a close.

McDonald’s has made a concerted effort to keep abreast of consumer trends, and it seems to be paying off. Consumers are spending longer out of the home as increasing working hours, longer commuting times and a desire to maximise leisure time mean consumers are seeking more convenient meal solutions. Despite the growth in the number of consumers eating out of the home, McDonald’s revenues have been hit in recent years on the back of increased media focus on the health effects of its food.

The relevance of the health megatrend in food purchases and diet is reflected in a 2004 Datamonitor survey, which showed that 80% of US and European consumers believe it is important to improve health through their diet. Crucially, consumers are more pro-actively managing their health independently.

Traditionally, consumers had to trade off eating and drinking healthily to accommodate their need for convenience, and vice versa. However, consumers are now becoming more demanding and are not prepared to sacrifice convenience, health or taste when purchasing food and drink. The vast array of tailored convenience products on the market, as well as the boom in convenience store development, is testament to this.

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