McDonald's fresh approach

Jan 13, 2012

It seems that when McDonald’s restaurants speak, everybody listens. McDonald’s is a big target for food activists but a huge customer of agriculture. They do seem a bit sensitive over some of the food issues, like humane treatment, accusations that their food stuffs are over pro- CROW cessed, sustainability, food safety, and other socially entwined food issues. They have become very sensitive to activist groups, even nutritional activists.

McDonald’s new advertising campaign would have to make you proud. The company clearly takes its supply chain seriously and felt that they had to prove to their customers that they use the freshest ingredients they can get. These new ads are promoting the farmers and ranchers who raise their food stuffs. The first one was a lettuce grower in California, Dirk Giannini from Salinas. Giannini is telling everyone how they grow their lettuce, process it and deliver it to McDonald’s in just a few days. They emphasize the high standards McDonald’s has. The second ad is from a potato grower in Washington. Frank Martinez came from a family of migrant farm workers and shares how his hard work allowed him to build a 1,000-acre potato farm, and that a good French fry starts with a quality potato. These ads make you stop and think about the people who go out of their way to raise a quality food product.

The ad I was most proud of featured past president of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Steve Foglesong and his family. He was talking about how every animal he produces is fed with feedstuffs off his ranch or other local farms, and that quality sells.

These were good ads that emphasized freshness and quality. We have all eaten a McDonald’s hamburger and I have never questioned the quality or safety of their product. I wish they would use less lean ground beef, but other than that, they have always served a good product.

Some folks like to bash them around mostly because they’re a big target and it’s popular in some food circles. McDonald’s openly admits they have had an image problem with their products. Dana Proud, a McDonald’s spokesperson, said, “We’ve got our work cut out for us; we’ve struggled for several years with the perception that we don’t use real ingredients. The misperception comes from people wondering how this can be real beef, lettuce and potatoes when you’re serving so much of it at a reasonable price.” There is a simple answer, modern production agriculture.

McDonald’s calls these new ads “the field to fork campaign.” McDonald’s was aware that consumers want to know where their food comes from and to validate that thought, McDonald’s began a listening tour to get ideas and opinions from consumers and they learned what they already knew.

McDonald’s is clearly serious about these issues.

Just two months ago, they dropped one of their egg suppliers because of inhumane treatment and sanitation issues. Major media got a hold of the story and McDonald’s dropped them in a heartbeat. Food safety is a major issue for food suppliers, and restaurants would like to be indemnified by their suppliers. McDonald’s keeps a heavy hand on their risk exposure.

There were lots of comments rolling in, chiding McDonald’s for their farm to fork campaign. Most of the comments were simply entertaining. One outfit called Corporate Accountability International, a watchdog group, said McDonald’s ads were misleading. Their director said the reality is that no corporation is more central to telling farmers to grow an inordinate amount of food that is bad for both people’s health and the environment. Another nutritionist said McDonald’s fries were more “Farm to Lab” than ‘Farm to Fork.”

I suppose you’re always going to have groups like that around that don’t know or care to know a thing about agriculture. We all know that McDonald’s does a good job delivering a fresh safe product and, yes, producers can grow volume safely. About the only negative thing I could say about McDonald’s is they do appear to be a little hyper sensitive to the social mantra; they are a superior-performing company and providing a good product, and they just happen to be the beef industry’s largest single customer. — PETE CROW