Sugar tax won’t help obesity fight - McDonald’s UK boss

Paul Pomroy, McDonald's UK chief executive (Picture: James Hardisty)
Paul Pomroy, McDonald's UK chief executive (Picture: James Hardisty)
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McDonald’s’ UK boss has questioned the value of taxing sugary and fattening food and drinks in order to tackle “complex” public health issues.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Paul Pomroy said obesity should be overcome through education, information and choice.

Mr Pomroy said McDonald’s, which has 1,250 restaurants around the UK, has invested in the quality of its food and is working to challenge the “myths” around its products.

Campaigners - including TV chef Jamie Oliver - are currently lobbying Government to introduce a so-called sugar tax in order to reduce levels of obesity in the UK, particularly among children.

A spokesman for David Cameron last week said the prime minister is against the policy, despite the soaring cost of obesity to the nation.

Figures from the NHS show 61.9 per cent of adults are overweight or obese. The direct cost of obesity to the NHS is between £6bn and £8bn a year.

Last year, a study by consultancy McKinsey and Company suggested this could rise to between £10bn and £12bn a year by 2030.

Mr Pomroy told The Yorkshire Post taxation is unlikely to be an effective way of stemming the rising cost of weight-related issues.

He said: “Obesity in the UK is an issue, but it’s a complex issue.

“It’s far more complex than just putting it at one retailer’s door, whether through taxation or whichever way they look at it.

“It’s also about lifestyle and education.”

Mr Pomroy pointed to the experience of some countries that have introduced sugar taxes, such as Denmark.

In October 2011, the country introduced a sugar tax, only for the Danish government to scrap the policy a little more than a year later.

Mr Pomroy said: “I’m not sure taxation is going to solve everything. It’s been done in different markets in different parts of Europe. Interestingly, a lot of those markets have pulled that.

“For me, it goes deeper in terms of education.”

The fast-food retailer has been a regular target for criticism over its nutritional impact and supply chain in the last 15 years, highlighted by documentary Supersize Me and investigative book Fast Food Nation.

Former UK chief executive Steve Eastbrook, who now heads up McDonald’s global business, was the first to be interviewed about the business’ food quality in 2006. “You’ve got to turn up to the debate,” Mr Pomroy said.

In the UK, McDonald’s latest advertising campaigns focus on busting some of the “myths” around its products’ sourcing and content.

“We’re very proud our food is British and Irish beef, we use 100 per cent free range eggs, we use only Freedom Food pork in the UK and we’ve just announced we’ve got 100 per cent British potatoes in our French fries,” he said.

“Some of the myths that are out there upset me, and certainly upsets franchisees, when people say things about what goes into chicken nuggets and what goes into beef.

“We’re going to take those myths head on. For too long, we probably allowed some of the myths to be out there. Now we’re going to talk about it.”

McDonald’s is currently undertaking a ‘re-imaging’ programme across its restaurants.

As well as making cosmetic changes, the refurbishment is introducing hi-tech touches such as self-service ordering kiosks and table-top tablets.

The refresh programme comes just three years after its last image overhaul, as customers demand more, Mr Pomroy said.

He said: “Customers keep telling us we need to keep changing.

“They don’t want us to be radically different, but they want to add their own twists, they want to use technology when placing an order.”

At its largest restaurant in Leeds - which celebrated its 30th birthday last week - the next step will be to offer table service.

McDonald’s franchisee Pritpal Singh, who runs 24 outlets including Leeds Briggate, is investing heavily both in the front-of-house restaurant and kitchen and crew facilities, as well as hiring new staff. Mr Pomroy said: “We’ll keep listening and looking at ways to excite our customers with something new.”

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McDonald’s wants to be part of the “education journey” that is needed around nutrition, Paul Pomroy said.

The company has provided full nutritional information on its tray liners in 1984 and was one of the first major brands to introduce calorie information to its menus in 2011.

Recently, it introduced a range of choices in its Deli wraps range, including crispy or grilled chicken. Its Happy Meal recipes also have 50 per cent less salt and 30 per cent less sugar than 10 years.

Healthy options like 49p fruit bags and a children’s water were added to its following customer demand. Mr Pomroy said: “For us, it’s about continuing to improve the quality of our food and to give people choice.”