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Sat, Oct 15, 2005 - Page 12 News List

McDonalds makes new bid to woo Japanese

MCBETTING BIG With profits slumping and visits still down after the 2002 mad cow scare in Japan, the US fast food giant has revamped its menu to better fit local tastes

AP , TOKYO

Japan McDonald's president Eiko Harada eats the new fried shrimp burger ''Filet-o-shrimp'' at a Tokyo shop yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Struggling to boost profits amid increased competition, McDonald's is adding a new item to its menu in Japan: the shrimp burger.

The ¥270 (US$2.40) burger, shown to reporters yesterday and set to go on sale this month, is the latest effort by the Japan unit of the US fast-food chain to win over Japanese palates -- and spark sales.

McDonald's Japan is also testing other additions, including chicken salad and yogurt.

The hamburger chain with more than 3,700 stores in the world's second largest economy has tried everything from tofu burgers to advertising blitzes to coax diners back to the Golden Arches after the company posted a loss in 2002 amid the mad cow scare.

"Many people who used to come to McDonald's had stopped coming, but they're coming back," said Eikoh Harada, who took over as chief executive last year.

Profits at McDonald's Holdings Co (Japan) Ltd, about 50 percent owned by the US McDonald's Corp, have been gradually recovering since its first loss in 29 years in Japan.

Although McDonald's uses Australian beef unaffected by mad cow disease, the fatal brain-wasting ailment, Japanese consumption of beef -- and Big Macs -- dropped sharply at the time.

Yesterday's news conference, held at a McDonald's in Tokyo, included taste-tests of recent menu offerings such as a grilled chicken sandwich and yogurt with granola -- all a change of pace from the Big Mac.

The shrimp burger developed especially for Japan is a bit similar to the Filet-O-Fish, except it's filled with shrimp.

Harada defended his decision to introduce the ¥100 items, including the cheeseburger, as critical to coaxing people back to McDonald's.

In the US, McDonald's offered 99 cent Big Macs, but the discount menu has shrunk and salads can cost US$5 or more. The new chicken salads in Japan, which aren't offered at all stores, cost ¥450.

Senior Vice President Pat Donahue, Harada's predecessor, who oversees the US-Japan partnership said he had faith in Harada and a solid revival takes time.

"He's clearly turned that decline around," Donahue said. "To permanently turn our business around and have sustained profitable growth requires rebuilding a foundation for our business."

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