McDonald's discharges itself after eight years at Starship

By REBECCA WALSH

McDonald's opened at Starship children's hospital eight years ago, sparking controversy and claims that it sent mixed messages to children about healthy eating.

This week, years before its lease was due to expire, the golden arches slipped quietly out of the hospital.

McDonald's spokesman Liam Jeory said yesterday that the outlet simply wasn't doing good business. The outlet had originally been near the main entrance to Starship but when Auckland City Hospital was rebuilt, that changed.

"We ended up being in the wrong place and there was an awful lot of competition way back at the main entrance as opposed to where we were stuck off at Starship."

Hospital visitors can now choose between Muffin Break, Planet Espresso, a convenience store or vending machines.

Mr Jeory said the restaurant had been invited into the hospital by management to provide consistent, quality food for extended hours.

As part of that agreement McDonald's had extended its menu to include cereals, low-fat milk and seasonal fruit.

"The place never did really great business, if I'm perfectly frank.

"It wasn't perhaps the best of business decisions to put it there ... there's just not that many people," he said.

"And, of course, a little bit of re-organisation and competition and it went from being incredibly marginal to being very marginal, basically to money-losing."

Asked whether McDonald's was perhaps not seen by parents as the best choice of food for sick children, Mr Jeory said it offered a range of healthy options.

Celia Murphy, executive director of the Obesity Action Coalition, said she was delighted to see the end of McDonald's at Starship.

"Anything synonymous with chips and burgers is not appropriate in a health organisation anywhere, particularly a children's hospital."

She hoped the hospital was going to replace McDonald's with a food outlet that offered a range of healthy choices, such as sandwiches, filled rolls and fruit - "not soft drinks, chips and burgers".

A hospital spokeswoman said an internal catering company would set up a cafe from mid-May.

It would sell "child-friendly" items, but she could not say what that meant.

A temporary kiosk would open in the next few days.

Mr Jeory said the fast-food chain's commitment to child health would continue with the Ronald McDonald houses for the families of sick children.

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