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LOOKING WEST: Raw Bar mums crunch lunch.

Byline: Matthew Gunther-Bushell

HATS off to Ella Cott and Tracey O'Grady, the former Aberystwyth University students who are now planning to roll out their healthy eating fast-food and caf concept - Raw Bar - across Wales.

The two, who met as mature students at Aberystwyth, started the outlet in the West Wales University town last September, after realising how difficult it is to find healthy, organic fast food.

As mothers themselves, they also wanted to create a format that was child-friendly and which didn't rely on feeding children junk food.

The issue of fast food, healthy eating and children is currently forcing a near meltdown for the world's fast food giants, as they try to come to terms with the inherent difficulties in solving the problem of combining healthy eating and fast food in the same sentence.

As healthy eating becomes a greater consumer priority, so fast food giants are facing dwindling sales and an ever-increasing need to provide healthy eating options.

Predictably, McDonald's has been both at the centre of attack from consumer groups, health organisations and even lawsuits for their promotion of high fat foods, and at the forefront of attempting to introduce healthy eating options to attract new customers and retain old ones.

But, whichever way you look at it, McDonald's, the world's largest fast-food franchise, is experiencing difficulties.

At the beginning of this year, the company's then chief executive, Jack Greenberg, stood down following the news that McDonald's was to slow down its operations with the likelihood of redundancies. It was then left to new chief executive Jim Cantalupo to announce, a few months ago, that McDonald's had posted a net loss of pounds 212m, the company's first loss in 47 years; the closure of 700 outlets and slow sales growth in the US was provided as the explanation.

In the UK, McDonald's has been attempting to hedge its bets against the uptake in healthy eating in order to win and retain market share. While McDonald's purchase of a 33% stake in Prt a Manger, in 2001, was seen by many as the most unlikely of business marriages, it is understandable to see why they made this move.

Prt a Manger is an environmentally friendly trader that bans all genetically modified foods, and even sources the chickens it uses from humane cages in Seville.

The successful sandwich chain has built a reputation on healthy eating and fresh produce and has more than 100 outlets in the UK, serving exactly the type of consumer audience that McDonald's is losing out to.

Perhaps the most obvious example of McDonald's attempt to come to terms with healthy eating at its outlets, however, is the launch of its new ``New Tastes Menu'' this month.

Fresh fruit is appearing on the menu for the first time ever, pasta salads with chicken have also been added and a Robinsons fruit shoot drink which boasts ``no added sugar'', is also being offered.

Rather fortuitously, the move also happens to coincide with a World Health Organisation report published this month, which calls for a limit in the consumption of saturated fats, sugars and salt in the diet.

So, while most fast-food giants are still slow to take on-board the new healthy eating choices being made by consumers, the market remains wide open, particularly here in Wales, for nimble and imaginative alternatives like the Aberystwyth-based Raw Bar. With a bit of drive this company, and others like it, stand every chance of attracting the market the fast-food giants fear most - healthy, fast-food eaters.

And, if the example of Prt a Manger is anything to go by, the reward, if they chose to accept it, could even be a buy-out from the very people their healthy option seeks to undermine.

# Matthew Gunther-Bushell is chief executive of Swansea-based MGB Public Relations
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 21, 2003
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