Chocolate fries bring crowds back to McDonald's Japan
CUSTOMERS like Shigeaki Yamaguchi may be the last hope for McDonald's Japan as it battles slumping sales in the wake of an embarrassing string of food scandals.
At a location in Tokyo's busy Shinjuku district, Mr Yamaguchi munched on the chain's newest culinary offering - french fries drizzled in brown and white chocolate syrup.
"Delicious," the 37-year-old proclaimed as he dug into the sticky, 330-yen (S$4) McChoco Potato.
"The reason I came is that I wanted to taste products that didn't exist until now."
Love them or hate them, social media spun into a frenzy over chocolate fries and customer numbers rose in January for the first time in several years - just as the salty-sweet creation launched.
Still, food-industry watchers warn it will take more than the apparent success of chocolate fries to save the fast-food chain's bacon.
Market share in Japan slipped to 10.4 per cent in 2014 from nearly 14 per cent five years earlier, according to market research firm Euromonitor, putting the chain well behind ubiquitous convenience stores stocking a wide range of food and Japanese quick-service chains.
McDonald's Japan last week reported an annual loss of 34.7 billion yen, its second straight year in the red and the biggest shortfall since opening its first store in Tokyo's posh Ginza district in 1971.
US-based McDonald's is mulling over the sale of some of its stake in the Japan unit, which has closed hundreds of its 3,000 outlets in recent years.
Some analysts speculate the buyer will be the Japan-based owner of the 7-11 chain of convenience stores.
Sales went into a steep dive after a mainland Chinese supplier was discovered to be mixing out-of-date meat with fresh produce. Then, bits of plastic were found in a sundae and pieces of vinyl in chicken nuggets.
The apparent discovery of a human tooth in a box of french fries was, for many consumers, the icing on an increasingly unappetising cake.
Vows to improve food quality and win back trust followed. A new mix-and-match menu with burgers, side dishes and desserts has been in the offing, as well as a focus on local produce, such as using cheese from northern Hokkaido or sweet potatoes from south-western Japan.