Business & Policy
Drivers of Change
By Kristy Nudds
Early last month McDonald’s U.S.A. ruffled some feathers when the company announced that it was making some changes to its chicken purchasing policy.
The fast-food giant said in a press company release that it will only source chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine, giving its suppliers the next two years to comply. It will also cease purchasing milk from cows given the rBST hormone.
Given the company’s purchasing power, the announcement is significant and not unexpected. The McDonald’s Corporation has seen declining sales globally, with the U.S. operations being hit the hardest, losing share to competitors who have positioned themselves as a healthier, more “wholesome” alternative. This is echoed by Mike Andres, McDonald’s U.S. president, who said in the press release, “Our customers want food that they feel great about eating – all the way from the farm to the restaurant – and these moves take a step toward better delivering on those expectations.”
Unlike many of its competitors, who tend to vilify farmers, McDonald’s seems to have given much more thought to
McDonald’s said in its press release that it has been working closely with its suppliers to reduce the use of antibiotics, and has sought guidance from its suppliers on the “thoughtful use” of antibiotics in food animals. The company also brought together a team of animal and human health experts to help it develop the recently released Global Vision for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Food Animals.
Also unlike many of its competitors, the corporation is not making the claim of offering “antibiotic-free” menu items in future – it clearly states that farmers who supply its chicken could continue to use ionophores in a responsible way, as this type of antibiotic is not used in human medicine.
I suspect the successful “Our Food. Your Questions” campaign launched by McDonald’s a few years ago also prompted the corporation to take a look at its sourcing policies, as well as its business model. The phenomenal success of the company is the result of its cookie cutter production method, but the one-size fits all approach to fast food doesn’t mesh with the values of North America’s largest consumer group: the Millenials.
Millenials – those currently aged 15 to 35 – love to eat out and fast food and “quick-serve” style restaurants top the list. But these discerning consumers want more than just a hamburger and fries. According to numerous analysts who study the eating habits of this group, Millenials want food that has enhanced flavours and textures, tastes great and offers health benefits. They also want to know if it’s responsibly sourced and its “story” (ie. how it’s raised/grown and where it comes from). Growing up in a digital age, they want to be connected to their food and each other, and consequently share restaurant information on social media sites.
Antibiotic use is something the poultry industry has been afraid to talk to consumers about directly. Perhaps the Millenials’ thirst for knowledge, coupled with McDonald’s desire to engage with them, will provide the context and understanding about antibiotic use the industry wants, without having to do the talking.