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Consumer desire to know more about their food and where it comes from can help beef’s future.
Achieving sustainability requires the entire supply chain
Rather than go to all of this trouble of arriving at a wide-ranging consensus, some in the industry might argue: “If McDonald’s wants to sell sustainable beef, then why don’t they establish a program, pay a premium to get it, and satisfy their customers?”
For one thing, even though McDonald’s buys approximately 2% of all beef produced globally each year, they only purchase about 2%. Big as they are, they aren’t big enough to mandate.
Besides, Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president of sustainability, explained to BEEF magazine in February, “We’re in the restaurant business. That’s what we know. We’re not in the cattle business. That’s what you know.”
Plus, Langert says McDonald’s believes sustainability should be mainstream, not a niche product defined and reserved for a handful of elitists.
Next, if the consumer wants it, like safety and affordability, sustainability becomes part of the new price of admission to participate. You can like it or hate it, but it doesn’t change the reality.
Finally, in my estimation at least, cattle and beef producers would miss a huge opportunity if they were excluded from the process or chose not to participate.
Obviously, there’s the practical production insight that would be missing. More important, though, would be ignoring the opportunity that goes with having allies with such consumer reach.
When’s the last time you thought of McDonald’s or Walmart as a customer? More important, when’s the last time you thought about McDonald’s as an ally?
That’s exactly what they are, though. As Langert told producers gathered for this year’s Cattlemen’s College in Nashville, TN, which was sponsored by Zoetis, “Beef is at the core of what we do past, present and future. We want the beef industry and McDonald’s to prosper as a result of ensuring that beef is sustainable long-term.”
Their success—selling more beef—depends on their suppliers—beef producers—remaining successful. McDonald’s understands that any definition of sustainability that makes business economically untenable for its suppliers means the same reality for their own company. For much of its history, a guiding McDonald’s philosophy has been: “We’ll be successful if our company does well, our owner-operators do well, and our suppliers do well.” The success of each is interdependent.
You can read more of McDonald’s views from Langert in the April issue of BEEF or online.
As mentioned earlier, economic viability is also recognized as a sustainability necessity by GRSB.
“We all need to do this in a way that is profitable and economic for our business model and for our suppliers’ business model,” Langert says. “Just thinking or saying you’re sustainable isn’t good enough; you have to have evidence points. It’s not just saying, ‘trust us,’ it’s proving it. Sustainability should be a mainstream part of our business and what we do.”
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