LONDON: Customer research has been at the heart of the consistent UK performance of McDonald's, the fast food business, its chief executive has said.

"One thing I did when I joined the business in 2006 was to really dial up the investment in consumer insight," Jill McDonald told the Daily Telegraph.

Back then she was the chief marketing officer and she recalled the problems the brand was facing following the Super Size Me documentary which had questioned everything from nutrition standards to advertising methods.

That film had not presented a balanced view, she said, "but it was a bit of a wake-up call in terms of needing to do better about communicating to consumers the quality of our food and the truth about our food".

Her success in that regard is evident in 34 consecutive quarters of sales growth, the Telegraph noted.

"[A]bsolutely number one is get closer to your customers and get superior insight, that's a real competitive advantage," she declared.

The other arm of her strategy has been to "invest in what is going to make the difference to them [customers] and what is going to drive additional visits".

So in the six years leading up to the London Olympics in 2012 restaurants were refurbished and food quality made a priority. The value of the latter approach was demonstrated during the horsemeat scandal which swept the UK in 2013, with supermarkets, food manufacturers and rival burger chains finding traces of horsemeat in their products.

The resulting uproar "wasn't great for the industry and it wasn't great for Britain", said McDonald. "However, we were in some ways pleased because it gave us an opportunity to demonstrate really tangibly what a strong and robust supply chain system McDonald's has … It gave another reason for customers to trust us."

As well as staying close to the customer, McDonald's has developed the ability to react quickly to changing food fashions, such as introducing smoothies and frappes.

"What we are pretty good at is fast following," said McDonald. "We see a trend and are able to democratise it – so give great quality, more convenience, and at better prices than the competition."

Data sourced from Daily Telegraph; additional content by Warc staff