The burger-loving Brit: McDonald's new CEO takes on sales slump

Thu Feb 5, 2015 8:59am EST
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By Neil Maidment

LONDON (Reuters) - A decade ago McDonald's (MCD.N: Quote) UK business needed better menus and a fresh image to catch up with consumer tastes. Now the U.S. firm, facing the same problems but on a much bigger scale, has turned to the man who fixed it for them last time.

Briton Steve Easterbrook, a 47-year-old company veteran, was appointed boss of the world's biggest burger chain last week, only the second non-American to take the job. His challenge is to halt a slide in sales around the world, caused by unpopular menus with too many options and accusations of poor quality.

The man from Watford, northwest of London, first made his mark in 2006 when he revived British sales by improving the brand's burgers, cutting the salt in its fries and introducing fresh, healthier food alongside organic milk and better coffee.

Easterbrook, who says he is partial to the company's quarter pounders with cheese, also opened up what had been seen as a closed corporate image, inviting consumers to visit its farms and blog about them and launching a website to answer food questions.

"It was something unheard of in the upper echelons of McDonald's at the time," said a former colleague, who did not wish to be named. "He was a breath of fresh air."

He even took on one of the chain's fiercest critics, "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser, and scored points in a live TV debate on food quality, such as healthier options, and better animal welfare standards.

Easterbrook's tenure sparked a rise in customer satisfaction data and UK sales, reinvigorating the company's British business that he has reminisced about visiting with school friends in the late seventies.

As Easterbrook readies to take the McDonald's helm on March 1 the company has already adopted some of his approaches more widely. Its 'Our Food, Your Questions' U.S. site has 20 million hits on YouTube, addressing queries from "Does McDonald's beef contain worms?" to "What's in the Big Mac sauce?"   Continued...

McDonald's Golden Arches are seen at the Union Square location in New York January 29, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid