Monday, August 18, 2008

Increased Demand for Real Food

You don't often hear the words "McDonald's" and "farmers market" the same sentence.

But the fast food giant has been steadily getting into the "real food" game to keep up with cultural shifts. In the UK, McDonald's has aggressively taken on sustainable food sourcing by launching a campaign about where its food comes from and the importance of eating healthy.

We love its program to educate people on the ethical food choices McDonald's is making. It takes real parents, appoints them independent "quality scouts," and sets them loose to explore what goes on at the McDonald's farms and suppliers. If you haven't seen it, check it out. It is a good reminder of the power of transparency.

But what's going on in the US market, where McD's has struggled recently? Sure, McDonald's is talking about 100% beef, healthy salads and sticking carrot sticks in its Happy Meals (though let's face it, a French fry seems a lot happier). But is that strategy much different from (sing it with me) "two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun?"

Are the Golden Arches selling us fast food-loving Americans short? Farmers Markets are growing like gangbusters, up almost 20% last year. And more and more people are starting to look at food in the same way as those "gourmands" in the UK.

Meanwhile, Burger King, always looking for a way to get ahead of its rival (how many times can you change a French fry recipe?) is out in front on sustainability and food—announcing they will buy more cage-free eggs and free-range pork. Maybe they've been paying closer attention to Chipotle (which McD's owned in part until 2006).

Will McDonald’s fight back and import its learnings from the UK and free-ranger Chipotle? Since half its 26,000 restaurants are in the US and 90 percent of American kids eat at Mickey D's every month, we're guessing that this food revolution will make its way to US consumer programs very soon.

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