Friday, March 11, 2011

McDonald's big green move

A posting for every foodservice supplier’s Facebook wall: McDonald’s is quietly up-ending what and how you’ll be selling to restaurants in the foreseeable future.

The changeover may actually be overdue. Pressure for an overhaul of what the supplier community peddles has been building in the upscale and independent sectors for some time. The message might’ve been ignored, but it was hard to miss: Sustainability is a consideration that’s increasingly going to shape a final decision on a product, particularly food and packaging.

The game-changer is McDonald’s announcement earlier this week that it will require suppliers using agricultural materials to have their source farms certified as sustainable, or having no harmful impact on the environment. That extends to the beef in McDonald’s hamburgers, the pork in its Egg McMuffin, and the corn that sweetens its soft drinks.

A former colleague once recounted how he’d worked for a fish supplier several decades ago, when seafood consumption was expected to soar because of health concerns. The firm opened a huge factory in anticipation, only to discover the demand amounted to a few cartons of breaded sticks and filets a week.

Then it landed a contract to produce the patties for the Filet-O-Fish, a small part of McDonald’s sales mix. Within days, the place was running 24/7 and thinking about expanding.

Today, McDonald’s is about three times the size it was then. An executive once remarked that she could create a worldwide sesame-seed shortage by adding a few more to the spec for a McDonald’s hamburger bun. McDonald’s may be the world’s largest purchaser of consumer food items.

Its pledge will have powerful repercussions. First, its suppliers will have to abide. You don’t antagonize a customer of that size.
But the scale of the adjustment will benefit many more buyers than McDonald’s. For one thing, the volume of production will ensure the price of sustainable fare declines. No longer will it be a specialty in limited supply.

Then there are the marketing pressures. If McDonald’s can boast about an all-sustainable menu, every other mainstream restaurateur will have to address the issue. It may well be the tipping point.

Before you suppliers start hyperventilating into a paper bag, note that McDonald’s didn’t say the changeover would be instantaneous. Indeed, it didn’t set a timeframe at all, save for its purchase of palm oil (it committed to an all-sustainable deadline of 2015).

Instead, it said the mandate would be phased in “over time.”

But the activity is already starting. McDonald’s noted in the announcement that it’s funding a three-year study of the carbon output of 350 cattle farms in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It’s presumably a first step to identifying best practices that could be adopted worldwide.

One of McDonald’s challenges on the green front is convincing eco-proponents that it’s sincere about changing. Wednesday’s announcement snagged relatively little attention outside of the environmentalist community.

But it should be big news to anyone who’s concerned about reducing the restaurant industry’s input, particularly restaurateurs themselves.

1 comment:

The Gracious Pantry said...

While this may help (or appear to help - you never can tell with these big corporations) the environment, it does NOTHING to make me want to buy their products. They are as unhealthy as ever and no packaging will change that.

I mean, leave it to McD's to mess up a good bowl of oatmeal. Have you seen the nutrition data on that? More sugar than a snickers bar!