Saturday, February 1, 2014

What Agriculture Can Learn from McDonald's

Today I had the privilege of hearing Don Thompson, CEO of McDonald's Corporation, speak to a room full of farmers, agribusiness professionals, politicians, and students about the connections between McDonald's and agriculture.  Some of Mr. Thompson's messages really resonated with me, so I thought I would share them here.

According to Mr. Thompson, McDonald's sees three consumer trends that drive how McDonald's evolves:  (1) transparency, (2) food quality, and (3) sustainability. Transparency explains why McDonald's posts nutritional information on all of its packaging.  It also explains why McDonald's started answering questions from consumers openly on its website:  Your Questions Answered.  For example, "Are Chicken McNuggets really made from the parts of chicken no one wants to eat?"

Food quality to McDonald's is more than just what we think of as traditional quality.  Food quality also includes where food comes from and how food is created.   This is most likely a result of fewer people growing up on farms; more people lacking a connection to agriculture. Many people do not know how food is produced.  That's why Mr. Thompson said McDonald's is running a number of ads showing "real" farmers producing McDonald's sourced food.  Here is an example (and it's great):

Some people would probably scoff at the idea that McDonald's is concerned about sustainability. But I believe it because McDonald's success is driven by the consistency of its supply chain. In each country it enters (119 currently), McDonald's has to find and maintain reliably sourced beef, potatoes, corn, etc. Sustainability means a sustainable supply.  That's enough reason for McDonald's to care, even if "sustainability" were not a consumer trend.

One other point resonated from the presentation.  Mr. Thompson said McDonald's welcomes food dialogs with NGOs and individuals--provided they eat Big Macs, fries, and shakes.  If you complain about McDonald's but don't ever eat (or want to eat) it's food, eventually McDonald's will stop listening. McDonald's listens to consumers. 

Agriculture can learn a lot from companies like McDonald's. The number one rule is that consumers--whether right, wrong, logical or illogical--drive the market.

Special thanks to Danica Kirkpatrick for inviting me to hear Don Thompson speak at the Purdue University Agriculture Alumni Fish Fry.  

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