AT a time when customer demand is at an all-time high, McDonald's wants to grow its business and sell more beef, but it recognizes that it cannot do it alone.
During the Cattle Industry Convention & Trade Show last week in Nashville, Tenn., McDonald's Corp. vice president of corporate sustainability Bob Langert asked the beef industry to join his company in a partnership to start looking at sustainability from a different perspective.
Langert told Feedstuffs there is no more sustainable area than the food and agriculture industry because while many products are not necessities, people do need to eat.
Langert believes that McDonald's and the beef industry fit like hand and glove: Similar to individuals in the beef industry, McDonald's franchisees and employees share a passion for the food industry.
More than 80% of McDonald's locations are owned by franchisees, not by the corporation, and the owners and operators share with farmers and ranchers the same independent spirit and drive to provide quality, safe food for the world.
"I have been with McDonald's for 31 years. I have worked with many McDonald's people who have catsup in their veins," he said.
At the end of the day, farmers and ranchers, like McDonald's owners and operators, want to pass on the family business to the next generation, and making a profit is the key. Still, it takes a balancing act to address ever-changing consumer trends while making difficult decisions that often involve trade-offs.
Sustainability is something McDonald's has been dealing with for more than 20 years, although the terminology and provisions are in an endless cycle of change.
McDonald's sustainability effort is not a "program of the day" but a reflection of the 70 million customers it serves daily.
As a company that purchases 2% of the beef worldwide, it does not want to formulate a McDonald's definition of sustainable beef but, rather, wants to have a voice at the global roundtable that involves all stakeholders in the value chain, from ranchers to retailers, to provide a scientific, rational definition built on principles.
"At McDonald's, we know what we're good at, and we know what we're not good at. What we're good at is running restaurants, but we need to rely upon beef ranchers, processors and the industry to figure out what sustainability means," Langert said.
"We're just one part of the spoke," he added. "That's what the global roundtable for sustainability is. Yeah, our voice is there, but so are all the others. Let's come up with a definition of beef sustainability for all of us that's based on science and is going to help drive our businesses forward."
Ultimately, when it comes to sustainability, Langert said, "It is not only making a difference in society, but it's bringing a benefit to your business as well.
"If we don't invest in sustainability, we're not going to have all the customers we want in the future," he added.
In the supply chain, three "Es" are reflected in sustainability: ethics, environment and economics.
Langert asked the beef industry to think like the customer it serves. Consumers' views are changing, and he urged the beef industry to understand those changes and use them as an opportunity.
To educate himself, Langert has been visiting more ranches, and on the whole, he said he loves what he sees, but he encouraged the beef industry to take control.
"Everything I see is good, and we are building on a good system," Langert noted. "Why don't we do more to take control of the social media instead of having radical transparency expose a blemish there and a blemish here? Let's show a great system; we are committed to that at McDonald's."
The challenge lies in proving how sustainable the beef industry is presently.
"I am convinced that a lot of the beef is already sustainable. We just do not have the metrics to prove it," Langert said.
Working together on quantifying the sustainability factor will be vital for the future of the beef industry and its partners in the food sector.