Nutritionists and health experts have reacted with alarm to news that McDonald's restaurants home delivery service is being expanded across the country following the apparent success of the first trial in Sydney's North Parramatta. Meanwhile Red Rooster began its first home delivery service in Baulkham Hills, near Parramatta, last week.
McDonald's Australia selected North Parramatta as the testing ground for a $25-minimum home delivery service in November last year, earning the wrath of nutritionist Rosemary Stanton and anti-obesity policy worker Jane Martin who pointed out the area around North Parramatta already had one of NSW's highest obesity rates.
According to Menulog - the internet vehicle McDonald's is partnering with for its home delivery services - the worldwide burger chain's menu has become the most popular home delivery option in the 2151 postcode. Online reviews of the service have been mixed, with some customers complaining about "stale chips" and long wait times.
The North Parramatta McDelivery service is now into its ninth month, and while neither McDonald's nor Menulog would reveal any information about the number of home delivery orders made or the most popular menu choices, at least six other Sydney McDonald's restaurants – in Stanmore, Mascot (Sydney Airport Gateway), Kingsford, Northmead, Rosehill and Waterloo – have since begun offering home delivery and McDonald's confirmed the first Victorian, Queensland and Western Australian trials will begin later this month.
A spokesperson for Red Rooster said as well as delivering to residents in and around Baulkham Hills, the fast food restaurant would deliver to businesses, sporting clubs and other local organisations. A decision about whether to expand home delivery would be made depending on the success of the Baulkham Hills trial.
"Baulkham Hills was selected because the site was available and the customer demand for delivery in the area was high along with some strong catering options made it a great option for the trial," spokesperson Rob Bond said.
Jane Martin of the Obesity Policy Coalition - established by health organisations including the Cancer Council Victoria and Diabetes Australia (Victoria) – described the roll out of home delivery by McDonald's and Red Rooster as inevitable but "disappointing" saying Australians were already making poor diet choices.
She pointed to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2011-2012 that showed 63.4 per cent of Australians aged 18 years and over were overweight or obese (comprised of 35 per cent overweight and 28.3 per cent obese) while recent Roy Morgan research put the number of overweight Australians at 11 million, and found they were overweight by an average of 16.5 kilograms.
"It sounds like [McDonald's] have tested [home delivery] and it's been working so they're pushing it out more broadly," Martin said. "Home delivery is another way of removing barriers for people and expanding their market."
Martin said home delivery was particularly concerning because it appealed to families. "I think home delivery is most appealing for people without transport and people who want the convenience and that is families."
A spokesperson for McDonald's Australia said the company was responding to customer demand.
"Australians have enjoyed the convenience of restaurant home delivery for decades and our customers have often said they like the idea of [McDonald's] delivery so we're currently trialling it in a number of our restaurants. We will look to extend the service once these trials are completed."
The spokesperson said suburbs had been selected for the home delivery trials based factors including "population growth" and "accessibility".
McDonald's confirmed the first McDelivery services would begin in Victoria (South Melbourne), in Western Australia (Karratha) and in Queensland (Hervey Bay) at the end of August.
Jane Martin speculated the decision to trial home delivery in inner-Melbourne rather than in the outer suburbs was to target another of McDonald's main markets – young professionals. The South Melbourne, Docklands and Southbank precinct around the City Road McDonald's is densely populated by apartment-dwellers.
McDonald's home delivery has long been popular in many Asian countries and the Australian trials come a decade after home delivery was first tested in the US. At the time, McDonald's Australia managing director Charlie Bell said home delivery was unlikely to be introduced here. "All our research suggests that Australians prefer their food fresh. They don't like to wait 30 minutes for home delivery," Mr Bell said in 1994.
Back then McDonald's offered a McButler service to Melbourne office workers in the city but Australian families liked to use McDonald's as "an excuse to get out of the house", Bell explained. The company was accordingly concentrating efforts in the mid-1990s on expanding its drive-through options.
Things appear to have changed since then and a Menulog blog offers some clues as to what, explaining that home delivery works best in crowded cities where drive-through is impractical.
Dietitian Tara Diversi said the increasing number of unhealthy home delivery options in Australia was a double-whammy for the nation's expanding waistline because it made eating fast food more convenient and, with minimum-order requirements, encouraged larger orders.
"The delivery minimum of $25 is a lot of McDonalds," Diversi said.
"It may mean that someone going in for a small meal may add extras such as fries, drinks or desserts that they ordinarily wouldn't buy. Or they may buy a family-sized meal, even if they don't have enough people to eat it."
According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Health Survey (2011-2012) the average adult Australian male consumes 9655kj daily and females 7402kj. Menulog shows a Big Mac contains 2060kj and a crispy chicken aioli McWrap has 2700kJ. Diversi said individuals should calculate their own requirements based on their sex, age and lifestyle at eatforhealth.gov.au.
The McDonald's spokesman said home delivery customers who chose to "take advantage of this trial service" could order from "a nearly full range of menu items, including burgers, French fries, salads or wraps, and as always can review comprehensive nutrition and ingredient information on our website".
A Menulog employee told goodfood.com.au the company could not reveal any information about McDonald's orders through its site because of an agreement with McDonald's.