Beef Buzz News
Sustainability Offers Platform for Tremendous Growth, McDonald's VP SaysMon, 17 Feb 2014 14:46:51 CST
Sustainability. What does it mean? Does it mean the same thing to beef consumers as it does to producers? What changes does it portend for the cattle industry?
Bob Langert, vice president of sustainability with McDonald’s, tackled those questions at the recent Cattle Industry Convention. After his presentation, he sat down with Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays to further explain that word which seems to be causing more than a little consternation and confusion among beef producers.
“The way we’re looking at that nebulous term and trying to crystallize it and make it more clear for the McDonald’s system is really looking at sustainability being defined as not only making a positive difference for society, but helping it grow your business. So, we’re looking at those two concepts together so that sustainability is now a shared value: doing good for society, driving our businesses forward.”
Langert acknowledged McDonald’s caused quite stir within the cattle industry when it announced a couple of weeks ago it wanted to source a significant amount of its beef from sustainable production units by 2016. He said he hopes the announcement was viewed positively inside the beef industry.
“Part of my message to the beef community is to look at sustainability not as a problem, not as a burden, but as an opportunity to grow their business. At McDonald’s we see this as a great opportunity. Beef is one of our growth platforms. Customers are wanting changes in how we address sustainability and they’re willing to reward companies that do that. So, this is customer driven. This is where it emanates from. And we’re looking at this causing a stir of positive support and getting the cattle industry to not look at it as something that’s an albatross to carry, but as a way to advance their business as well.”
Langert says his company is merely following the lead of their customers. He says research shows their clientele has become more concerned over the last five or six years with the quality of their food, where it comes from and how it is grown and produced.
“They are having high expectations of companies and brands like ours and they are willing to reward us and punish us if we don’t meet those expectations. So, we had to change. Change is not easy, sometimes. Look at the way we’ve changed our menu over the last ten years to meet some of these needs. If we don’t change, our businesses are going to wither and we don’t want that to happen.”
When it comes to explaining to their customers how good their food products are, Langert says McDonald’s and the agriculture industry as a whole are not doing a good enough job at getting their message across.
“We need to build on the fact that we have a great system of affordable, safe, high-quality food. But now sustainability is a part of it and we need to be very transparent with that and provide more measurement. We’ve got to prove to the consumer. We can’t just say it.”
In his presentation at the CIC, Langert asked for assistance from the beef industry in helping to define what sustainability is.
“We don’t want a McDonald’s definition, by the way. We want it defined by those who actually produce beef. We’re a restaurant company, not raisers of cattle. So, we’re looking for the whole value chain of who produces beef and who sells it--even the NGOs and academics involved--to rally together to come up with this way of defining sustainable beef.”
Langert says his goal is a partnership with the beef industry. McDonald’s currently has five branded sandwiches on its menu, each with sales in the billions of dollars. He says his company wants to replicate that success story and sees sustainable beef as the platform for that growth and that that platform can carry sustainable beef producers.
“We have a lot of self interest in promoting and selling more beef. We see sustainability as absolutely critical in achieving that end, but we’re not going to do it without the entire supply chain getting on board and seeing this as an opportunity, not as a risk to be mitigated.”
Filling McDonald’s supply chain with sustainable beef is an enormous project, Langert says, and it will take some time. He expects a global definition of the term sustainable beef will be adopted by the end of this year. After that it will have to be examined in light of regional differences. Langert says many in the beef industry say their practices are already sustainable. He says the biggest challenge then will be in developing metrics to measure and prove to consumers that they are truly getting what they ask for.
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