Written by: Tom Wadlow
“What I love about the F&B sector is that it is extremely dynamic and ever evolving, which means it keeps you on your toes so you must innovate to stay current and relevant.
“Since joining the company over a decade ago and in my capacity as General Manager, I’ve had the privilege of helping grow and evolve our brand in the UAE across a number of different pillars of the business.
“What stands out for me is where we’ve had the chance to drive positive impact in the local community. From partnerships with the likes of Emirates Environmental Group or Emirates Red Crescent to pioneering initiatives like our Biodiesel programme with Neutral Fuels, it’s been a rewarding journey and one that I feel is just getting started.”
Walid Fakih is talking about McDonald’s.
A household QSR name that requires no introduction, the US fast-food institution is celebrating 25 years in the UAE having arrived in 1994. Today it operates over 170 restaurants with more than 5,000 employees, approaching the market as a global brand with a local approach.
And the market is a rewarding, albeit challenging one, Fakih describing it as a saturated and bustling industry to be working in right now.
“QSR has always been big in the UAE,” he adds. “It’s a fiercely competitive sector in a market that caters to a tremendously diverse population, which brings with it unique opportunities and challenges. While McDelivery has been around for several years, the delivery space powered by food aggregators is opening up more choice for consumers and more opportunities to reach new audiences for QSR brands.
“However, despite new trends and entries into the market, the one constant is changing customer demand and expectations.”
Fakih can therefore be certain about at least one thing – that adapting to consumer demand is critical to McDonald’s mission to continue building its brand in the country.
Central to this will be what the General Manager refers to as the ‘experience of the future’ approach.
Here, McDonald’s has introduced a number of new concepts such as digital self-ordering kiosks, enhanced mobile applications and Guest Experience Leaders, as well as redesigned restaurant layouts.
“Trust and transparency will also continue to define how brands create more meaningful connections with their customers alongside delivering higher quality ingredients,” Fakih adds.
“This is an area that we’re particularly proud of. In 2017 we made some major enhancements to improve key ingredients. From reducing the calorie count of our mayonnaise by 50 percent to cutting saturated fats in our cooking oil and reducing sodium in our fries, we’re constantly looking at ways to offer a wiser choice.”
These are factors which Fakih believes will help to differentiate McDonald’s further as the QSR market becomes even more congested in the years to come.
And with Expo 2020 set to span over 173 days in Dubai from October, there is a massive opportunity for industry operators to capitalise. The city is already home to more restaurants per million residents than anywhere else in the world barring Paris, and according to sector analysts will continue to drive the national QSR trajectory upwards.
Indeed, KPMG’s 2018 F&B Report for the UAE shows that, among all formats in the UAE, quick-service restaurants were more popular in 2018 due to value-seeking customers, with the delivery segment also growing strongly alongside this.
For Fakih, the future is about further expansion in three distinct ways.
He concludes: “We have steady yet ambitious plans to continue growing in the UAE from our 170-plus restaurants. We’ll also focus on increasing our footprint by reaching more customers through delivery. Partnerships with food aggregators like Uber Eats allow us to reach more people in areas where we haven’t previously had a presence with our McDelivery fleet.
“Finally, we’re looking at how we can diversity our products to offer new and exciting innovations for the UAE’s eclectic-yet-adventurous tastes.”