McDonald’s executives highlight retail trends at 2011 Nebraska Farm Bureau Convention |

McDonald’s executives highlight retail trends at 2011 Nebraska Farm Bureau Convention

More than 500 farmers, ranchers and agriculture enthusiasts gathered in Kearney, NE, for the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention, Dec. 4-6, 2011. The opening keynote speaker was Debbie Roberts, vice president and general manager for the McDonald’s Midwest Region, as well as a certified public accountant and a board member of the Ronald McDonald charities. Roberts is responsible for the performance of a $1.58-billion business comprised of 700 restaurants in eight states.

Robert’s speech, “McDonald’s: Our Story,” focused on her company’s perspective of agriculture and current retail trends.

“Through certain successes and failures, we have learned to focus on the customer, stay true to our heritage and values, balance the business and the brand, maintain honesty and integrity and continue an open dialogue with our customers,” she said.

McDonald’s has 32,000 restaurants in 117 countries, with 60 million customers each day. This huge scope creates a unique business environment for others to take notes from.

“Being in business is about the quality and value of our food and service,” Roberts said. “Doing good is about taking care of people. McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc believes in this principle. His philosophy was to put the customer first and give them what they want every single time.”

Crediting supplier relationships that go back generations, Roberts talked about the importance of the McDonald’s three-legged stool: the corporation, franchisees and suppliers.

“Suppliers help us provide safe, wholesome, quality foods for our customers in a consistent manner,” she added. “We are incredibly proud of our food and have been providing nutrition information to our customers for more than 40 years. We know there is more to do on this effort, as well, and that’s why we are focused on adding more fruits and vegetables, quality grains and low-fat dairies to our menus.”

Changes in Happy Meals, including apple slices, elimination of trans-fats, reduction of french fry servings and a new offering of low-fat chocolate milk has helped reduce calories in kid’s meals by 20 percent, according to Roberts.

“We think it’s important to talk to our customers about foods, ingredients, safety, sustainability, health and more,” she said. “We need to provide more food and more choices to health-conscious consumers. We want people to associate our restaurant with good, fast food. We need to be much better about sharing our stories of character, authenticity and honesty. We need to rebuild consumer trust in our foods. We must continue to work to share our stories, while meeting the evolving needs of our customers.”

More than 87 percent of McDonald’s restaurants are owned and operated by families in small communities. While supporting these local business owners, maintaining a high standard of safety and quality in the foods offered at McDonald’s is a top priority. This was discussed further at the convention by Susan Forsell, vice president of the McDonald’s U.S. Supply Chain Management and Quality Systems and Sustainable Supply.

“I believe we have a unique model that is a product of our heritage and a fabric of our culture,” Forsell said. “In the U.S., we purchase more than $10 billion in food annually. Think about a shopping cart that holds over $800 million pounds of beef, 667 million pounds of chicken, 1.6 pounds of potatoes and 53 million pounds of fish. Our success isn’t really about the numbers and our purchasing power, it’s about increased customer value.”

The McDonald’s vision, one that farmers and ranchers can also apply in their own operations, is “capability, trust and growth.”

“What it boils down to is simple – we must deliver a quality meal every time,” she said. “Our customers trust that we have everything in place to make it happen. From the farm to the consumer, the chain has to be trusted. The farmer, supplier, distributor and restaurant all must execute at the highest possible level to earn the trust of our customer. This all starts back with the farmer, but this is a complex and challenging task.”

Quality, service, cleanliness and value are the priorities at McDonald’s, and it’s those same qualities that have helped U.S. farmers and ranchers be successful in business, as well. Now, it’s up to the entire chain to share this message with consumers, to rebuild the brand of American agriculture and regain the customers’ trust in the U.S. food supply.

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