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Consumer Trends

McDonald’s redefines health in terms of sustainability

Data shows that consumers want transparency.
Photograph: Shutterstock

McDonald’s is moving toward a menu free of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, but every product has a unique challenge, said Amy Wilcox, director of quality systems and supply chain management for McDonald’s USA. She and her colleague, Cynthia Goody, chief nutritionist for McDonald’s, explained how “clean” ingredients are a key part of the chain’s sustainability initiative during the “Sustainable Approach to the Menu” panel at Restaurant Leadership Conference.

But “we can’t use the clean label description, because everyone has a different definition,” said Wilcox. “We had to create our own definition for suppliers, operators and customers. And that involved a lot of outreach to make sure all our suppliers were on the same page.”

The chain, in fact, announced this past September that is was removing artificial preservatives from its “classic” burger lineup in the U.S. “We have a great group of suppliers,” said Chris Kempczinski, president of McDonald’s U.S., at the time. And now, the chain announced that a third of its eggs are cage-free—and it expects to source 726 million cage-free eggs this year.

Right now, chicken nuggets fit the sustainability criteria, as do American cheese and burgers. As far as McDonald’s burger goes, “the pickle presented a problem,” said Wilcox. “We couldn’t find one that fit our definition, so we went forward with what we had and put an asterisk next to it on the menu. Being truthful and transparent is important to us.”

Technomic’s Rich Shank, another panelist, agreed. “Our consumer research shows that the most important aspect of sustainability is transparency of ingredients. And consumers expect the same or more commitment to sustainability from chains as independents,” he said.

Shank presented findings from Technomic that outlined the four Ps of sustainability: People, planet, product and profit. Product refers to food transparency, and planet, environmental consciousness. The people part requires attention to social responsibility; companies have to be accountable to employees, customers, communities and future generations. But the last piece is profit: How to achieve sustainability without hurting business.

 

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