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Best of NAMA 2022

This McDonald's never had a farm, but it is a major purchaser of many agricultural ingredients, including beef, chicken, potatoes and apples. Each year, it also serves hundreds of millions of pounds of mixed greens and tomatoes.

With nearly 14,000 U.S. restaurants, McDonald's has grown to serve more than 25 million customers a day. McDonald's knows that because of its size, it bears the responsibility of leadership in meeting consumer expectations in food safety, quality, innovation and social responsibility. Although McDonald's has always held the bar high on quality, when research studies revealed that consumers had a low perception of the food quality at quick-serve restaurants, McDonald's decided to rally its supply chain.

"Everyone in McDonald's supply chain knows about the company's stringent food quality and safety standards," says Tara Hayes, McDonald's Manager of U.S. Communications responsible for food quality initiatives. "Alignment on quality is essential from the restaurant, all the way back to the farm. But when you're really good at convenience and value, it can be hard for consumers to believe the food also can be real, authentic and high quality.

"Most consumers don't know the eggs in Egg McMuffin sandwiches are real, or that our beef is 100% USDA-inspected, with no fillers or additives," says Hayes. "And, very few realize our Premium Salads are prepared fresh each day in our restaurants.

"For more than 50 years, McDonald's has been committed to serving quality meals in restaurants around the world," says Hayes. "Perhaps one of our best-kept secrets is our relationship with our trusted suppliers and their ability to deliver on some very high expectations of quality and food safety. In fact, many of our food quality and safety standards meet or exceed USDA regulations."

McDonald's selected Morgan&Myers, headquartered in Waukesha, WI, to help find ways to demonstrate leadership in meeting consumer quality expectations, and to foster awareness and understanding across multiple audiences, including agriculture.

An integrated communications firm known for its food and agriculture expertise, Morgan&Myers helped plan and execute the first-ever "McDonald's Food Quality Symposium." GolinHarris, Chicago, IL, worked as a partner agency on the event, leading consumer media efforts and coordinating site logistics.

The McDonald's Food Quality Symposium was a two-day, seminar-type symposium that featured keynote and panel-style sessions, offering past, present and future perspectives on three key issues: innovation and food safety, social responsibility, and consumer trends and sector impacts.

McDonald's senior leadership responsible for quality moderated the panels and hosted the event. Panelists and speakers included suppliers, industry third parties, McDonald's senior leaders and advocacy group members.

The symposium was unique in several ways, according to Judy Rupnow, the Morgan&Myers counselor who led organization and planning for the event. "First, we brought together nearly 200 participants from several groups — from agriculture to suppliers to the restaurant industry. Ag participants spanned the scope of agricultural production, from meat, to produce, to wheat and corn producers."

The audience included both trade and consumer media, academia, and other influentials. "We also included representatives from advocacy groups who often are critics," Rupnow adds.

"Then, we opened the doors to them, which also was unique," she continues. "One reason people have concerns about quality is because they really don't know much about the standards that are set. They don't know how McDonald's works with its suppliers and how they, in turn, work with agriculture. It's hard to trust what you can't see, so we tried to demystify it for them.

"Conversely, much of the agricultural community has only limited exposure to what drives consumer choices, what consumers expect, and how they make buying decisions. Yet those trends have a tremendous impact on the choices farmers make in how they grow and produce commodities.

"Also, many agricultural producers and farm groups don't really understand all the factors that McDonald's considers as it makes decisions that impact the supply chain, including socially responsible practices, innovation for new products or improved safety processes. Through the symposium, we wanted to take some steps in building more understanding," Rupnow adds.

Participants were offered exclusive open doors tours of two McDonald's suppliers. These behind-the-scenes tours let participants see the quality processes firsthand, and gain understanding of the impact that the McDonald's supplier partnership has on quality. They also attended a reception at the famed McDonald's Hamburger University, where they networked with McDonald's staff, senior leaders, and heard about menu development from Chef Dan Coudreaut, McDonald's Director of Culinary Innovation.

In addition to presentations, the symposium featured various news announcements on quality activities, including the launch of the limited-time virtual open doors Web site. The site hosted video vignettes that told the quality story behind many McDonald's menu items.

In reviewing the program's results, both Hayes and Rupnow agree that the event was more successful than anticipated, in many ways.

The event generated strong media coverage. Among those attending the event were reporters from the New York Times, Food Processing Magazine, The Packer, Food Safety Magazine, and others. Stories also appeared in the Chicago Tribune, and in the online versions of Reuters, CNN Money, Meat Poultry, and Yahoo Business. Stories were broadcast in numerous U.S. markets. Within a month of the symposium, media created more than eight million "opportunities to see" among consumer audiences.

The symposium also had a significant impact on participants. A strong majority of non-supplier participants 7#151;85% — said their perceptions of McDonald's quality improved. Nearly half said their perceptions improved significantly.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents expressed interest in further communications or additional dialog with McDonald's.

Also, a high percentage of participants felt that McDonald's is committed to telling the quality story on behalf of U.S. agriculture, as well as helping farmers and the agricultural supply chain. Perceptions about the degree to which McDonald's engages with key audiences improved in six of nine segments.

Perhaps one of the best examples of the impact on agricultural audiences was noted on the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Web site news page. NCGA's CEO Rick Tolman said,"The meeting was a great opportunity to hear what is on McDonald's mind as they look to the future. They have a good connection to American agriculture, being one of the largest purchasers of farm products. They have put a tremendous supply and distribution chain together with a real strong emphasis on quality, freshness and nutrition. ... All around, it was a good meeting for NCGA to attend."

Tolman also noted, "We should be looking at ways to develop a relationship with McDonald's and other food retailers as a way of better staying in tune with consumer trends. Farmers and those of us who represent farmers need to better understand the wants and needs of the ultimate consumer in order to more quickly react and respond and produce what they want and need.

"By doing this, farmers will produce products of more value and be able to share in that value and find ways to move up the value chain. We can talk with McDonald's and their suppliers and find out what they need from us, what we can provide and build a working relationship. We can become an active participant instead of a bystander."

"Consumer tastes, and their expectations for quality, are constantly changing, and always increasing," Hayes says. "Innovations in products and technology help us meet those changes. None of us, at any level, can rest on our laurels. We constantly have to strive to raise the bar on food quality."

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