Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760-779)



  Q760 Mr Burns: There was quite a lot of coverage last year with regard to McDonald's in that your growth was slowing down worldwide. Since then as a company you have taken action in developing new products, pricing, marketing. One of the things that has become quite apparent particularly in the United States but it also has been reciprocated here in this country is you have developed markets for more fresh fruit, more salads to meet a growing concern with obesity and being overweight. What sort of impact is that having or is it too soon to be able to judge? Are people, because of the high concern and publicity about being overweight and obesity, beginning to come to your restaurants and change their purchasing habits to try and reduce their own individual problems and to meet this growing concern?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I think a lot of people would be quite surprised by the number of changes that have happened at McDonald's over the last ten to 15 years and the last 15 months or so. We have changed the formula in a number of our food items. We have introduced orange juice and no added sugar yoghurt for children, organic semi-skilled milk and we are now the leading retailer of pre-prepared fruit in the UK. We wondered how well this would do. We sold 1.3 million packages of fruit in the first three weeks. It is very difficult to say how much of the recent success of McDonald's is caused by this and the data that we have is not absolutely conclusive, but if you look around the world, countries such as the USA and Australia are doing particularly well at the moment on the back of a range which I think they call "Salads Plus". We are trialling these in London, we have salads in all of our restaurants and we are hoping to roll these out next year and it is absolutely clear that customers' tastes do change over time. Our trick is to understand how their tastes are changing and to provide what it is they want accompanied by the right nutritional information.

  Q761 Mr Burns: Would you also agree, or possibly disagree, that the whole question of diet is one of balance and that you cannot categorise certain groups of food preparation or food as the guilty partner in contributing to people being overweight? Other foods that would not necessarily be associated with the fast food industry can, if eaten to excess or in the wrong ways, cause problems and it is a balance between a balanced diet and also a balanced diet and exercise and one has to look at it as a whole rather than just trying to lay the blame in one area for a whole problem and trying to start interfering in a way that might be counterproductive.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I would certainly agree with that. It comes back to the question of the energy balance that we discussed earlier. Most customers come into our restaurants two or three times a month and if they wish to have a hamburger, they will have a hamburger; if they wish to have salad with a grilled chicken product, they will eat salad with a grilled chicken product. The thing that concerns me most about some of the debate that has gone on is it has been polarised. If, as everyone says, we have to work together then polarising the debate will not assist in any way, so to my mind it is recognising the energy balance, putting away certain prejudices that some people have and coming to the table to work together.

  Q762 Mr Amess: You are saying you want the Government to take a lead on this?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I think it would certainly be logical for the Government to act as a leader and a co-ordinator, yes.

  Q763 Mr Burns: Should it not be the parents who take the decisions for what their children eat and what they themselves are eating, should they not be taking the responsible decisions to ensure that there is a balanced diet for them and their children and that they all take exercise as well?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: In the case of children, of course it is parents who have to take responsibility for what their children eat. I have two boys aged two and four and I go with them to McDonald's once, twice, three times a month. They love the food, they love the whole experience and I enjoy taking them and it is not just because I work for McDonald's, it is a fun eating out occasion for the family, but ultimately my wife and I decide what they eat. The important thing is that the parents are armed with the information not just in McDonald's, everywhere, about what they eat and how that fits into the energy balance that we have discussed, that is the key.

  Q764 Dr Naysmith: You are talking about it being alright for someone to go into McDonald's once a month and have a meal. Is there anything equivalent to what happens when you get a heavy drinker in a bar? Someone who comes in once or twice a day and is eating nothing but McDonald's, are there any instructions for staff to suggest they might consider not doing that and having something else instead?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I do not think it is for us to presume to tell our customers what they should be doing and what they should be eating on a particular occasion.

  Q765 Chairman: Surely you are doing that anyway with your leaflets.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We are encouraging a diet. What we are not saying is that on a particular occasion you must eat this or you must not eat that, I do not think that that would be appropriate, no. It comes back to personal responsibility and then understanding what it is that makes up the balanced diet and the healthy, active lifestyle.

  Q766 John Austin: We are going to come on to advertising and marketing later. You offer a free toy with a Happy Meal.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: It is not free, the parent has to pay for it, you can buy the toy separately.

  Q767 John Austin: In order to collect all of the toys in the range you would have to eat about three or four Happy Meals a week. Is that a balanced diet?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: When we run promotions, you are quite right, sometimes we have four or five toys in a set that is usually run over a five or six-week period. The objective of the promotion and the result of the promotion is not principally to drive people to come in more often, it is largely designed to get different people to come into our restaurants and we find that most people come in two or three times a month.

  Q768 John Austin: But a child would want to collect the whole set, is that your experience?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: It is not our experience, no. Some do, but the fact is that most come in two or three times a month.

  Q769 John Austin: In order to do so they would have to eat three or four Happy Meals a week. I am asking you if you think that is a good thing to do.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: If they eat three or four Happy Meals a week they get three or four of the same kind of toy.

  Q770 Mr Bradley: When you have a range of toys as a promotion it is not your intention for the children to get the set, you do not anticipate that that is the motive for the child whether or not the parents try and influence that? You are saying that when there are these five items that you can get by going to McDonald's it is not your intention to expect the child to try and collect those five items?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: The Happy Meal contains the food, the drink and the toy. The majority of Happy Meal advertising spend is aimed purely at the parents rather than at children and obviously the parent makes the decision about whether or not to go into the restaurant. Our intention is of course to raise the frequency slightly, but it is very slightly. If you look at the information that has been submitted you will see that the average number of times that someone will come in will be two or three times a month. Above all what we want to do is to encourage different people to come into our restaurants and to enjoy the experience, that is the objective of most advertising.

  Q771 Mr Burstow: I would like to come back to something that you were discussing earlier, which is this whole question of balanced diets and your part and other food producers' part in helping people achieve that balance. I was certainly struck by the point that I think Mr Hilton-Johnson made earlier about snacks being part of the diet whether we like it or not, they are there, they are part or maybe it was Mr Glenn. What quantities of your own food products would you advise parents to allow a typical five-year old to consume in an average week? How many Happy Meals would you be saying should form part of a balanced diet in a typical week, or in the case of Pepsi, a 12 ounce can, how many of those should a typical five-year old consume in a week, or in the case of Kellogg's, what about Coco Pops, how many packets of Coco Pops should be consumed in an average week by a five-year old, and how many Chocolate Buttons? Could you give us some idea of where you are able to give that sort of advice so that we can make meaningful this idea of a balanced diet?

  Mr Mobsby: I will take the specific example you gave of Coco Pops. I would be quite happy if a child ate Coco Pops most days of the week. The average child eats five to six servings of a cereal a week. Why do I say that? Because we know that one of the biggest risks at breakfast is that children do not eat breakfast at all and if they do not eat breakfast they do not make up the nutrients that are not consumed at breakfast time. We know the consumption of cereals provides one-third of the milk consumed in the diet, 25 per cent of the iron and close to 30 per cent of the calcium consumed in the diet. The role that breakfast cereals play in relation to the diet on a regular basis is actually very significant and very important, so I would be very happy. Our bigger concern is that kids do not have breakfast often enough.

  Q772 Mr Burstow: We have seen and heard evidence to the effect of just how crucial breakfast is in terms of regulating and balancing a diet throughout the day and I take that point entirely. In the case of Coco Pops, 36.3 grams out of 100 grams is sugar. Does that start a person off well at the beginning of the day? A five-year old whose necessary intake of sugar is not massive, is it a good basis for the rest of the day to consume that amount of sugar for breakfast?

  Mr Mobsby: Let us remember where the word comes from "breaking the fast". It is not uncommon that the child has not consumed any food for 12 hours, possibly longer. What they need is a multiplicity of nutrients of which sugar, which gives a shorter, sharper boost of energy, is one component and also complex carbohydrates in the form of starch which provides longer-term energy, the milk does the same, plus the other micronutrients. So sugar as a component of that is a positive element. Breakfast cereals provide just seven per cent added sugar intake in a child's diet.[22]

  Q773 Mr Burstow: You are saying you would not have a problem recommending as part of a balanced diet that Coco Pops are consumed every day?

  Mr Mobsby: I would say breakfast cereals should be consumed every day, I would be quite happy with that recommendation. Then it is a question of choice being provided. If anybody eats any single food too much then we would not recommend that, of course not. In and of itself a single breakfast cereal we would still say is a positive start to the day. Typically in the household, as we say in the memorandum, there are four or five different varieties of cereals available. Kids want variety, they are not going to eat the same cereal every day of the week, they will get fed up with that and so they switch around between cereals during the course of the week. The key is they have something at breakfast, that is the first and most important thing and cereal for them is rather more palatable and a more easily to digest food and carries lots of other values with it.

  Q774 Mr Burstow: I wonder if Mr Glenn could talk about the 12 ounce can of Pepsi Cola and tell us how he would see that being part of a balanced diet and how many cans.

  Mr Glenn: The problem with the approach, with respect, is it is the presumption here that we are talking about bad foods and I think the only sensible way to make headway on the obesity debate is rather than telling people lots and lots of specific product sector by product sector do's and dont's to get over some simple points about a balanced diet. People on average in the UK consume between two and three bags of crisps a week. I think the average consumption is about 1.8 litres of soft drinks a week. We know that it is part of a balanced diet. You have to focus on diet. If you tell people how to make their diets up by saying do not do this, do not do this, do not do this then you are, frankly, not going to succeed. We need to get people to understand the diet, to understand the concept of moderation and by educating people on a simple measure about calories—and I would not get sidelined by sugar etcetera, it just confuses people—and if there is calorific information on the pack, then as long as the parent is educated enough to understand what balance means they should then have the freedom to make the choice to build an enjoyable diet for them and their children.

  Q775 Mr Burstow: From the evidence we have seen so far and certainly from my own personal experience I think many people would struggle to make a meaningful decision based on calorific information. The Chairman was asking questions earlier on about other proxy measures in terms of other ways in which we can make it more meaningful, whether it is the number of spoonfuls of sugar or whatever it might be. The reality is people, when they are making decisions about purchases in the supermarket or in a restaurant, are dealing with what is in front of them, they are not dealing in the abstract, which is what you are dealing with. Therefore, to make it meaningful you have to relate it back to products. How could you make it meaningful with regard to your products, particularly Pepsi Cola?

  Mr Glenn: We have to get to an absolutely common, unambiguous currency to help this debate and to my mind that currency is calories, it is not proxy measures. Provided that information is there very clearly at the point of consumption as well as purchase (I think they are two different things) and people understand what a balanced diet for their individual circumstances would need to be, then that probably forms the debate about what this Committee might recommend going forward, which is how do we encourage people in this country to understand better the notion of calories in, calories out because I think that is at the heart of the educational gap within this whole debate.

  Q776 Mr Burstow: Have you done any research yourselves on your consumers' understanding of calories and whether they do have any understanding of it?

  Mr Glenn: We do a lot of research with consumers of our products. We understand where our products fit into the daily lives of consumers and for the sake of reputation, we think in the markets we compete in we would probably account for about seven per cent of total calories consumed and we feel very confident in talking to our consumers, especially in the light of the heat and excitement that this debate has caused, that most parents understand that they should take accountability for the healthy lifestyle and diet of their children and thank heavens most parents do. What we need to focus on are the few parents who do not because they do not know or for involuntary reasons they do not have that information. So the question should be positive, how do we get people to understand and most people in the population do understand and make that more universal.

  Q777 Mr Burstow: Most of the population is getting fatter, that is the observation we have come across in this country and in the United States and across the world. Given that the whole population seems to be upsizing because of a lack of activity and perhaps an inappropriate balance in the diet, why is that message that you are just saying is there and clearly understood not getting through? Why are we still getting bigger?

  Mr Glenn: I thought the terms of reference of the Committee was obesity, which is technically more than 20% above one's ideal body weight.

  Q778 Mr Burstow: Why as a society do we appear to be becoming more obese, because you are right and that is also part of what is happening, there is a shift going on across the population not just in particular parts of the population? Do you not accept that to be the case?

  Mr Glenn: I do and I stand by the point, which is the majority of people do understand the notion of what a balanced diet and balanced lifestyle means for them and the approach to combating and targeting these two needs to be at a minority of people and it still is a minority who do not understand it and I think that should characterise the challenge of this Committee, the food industry and all of the stakeholders in the obesity debate.

  Q779 Mr Burstow: The population as a whole is becoming more obese. Are people's choices making them more obese, is that what you are telling us?

  Mr Glenn: I am not sure that was what I was saying. I was saying people have a choice in putting together their own definition of a balanced diet and most people do so effectively.

22   Note By Witness: This compares to 14% from biscuits, buns and cakes,33% from drinks,21% from confectionery and 6% from milk and milk products. Back

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