McDonald's and the animal welfare 'tipping point'
Why animal welfare is critical to brand reputation for Canada's livestock industries
Posted: June 28, 2013
One of the best indicators of where the world is headed in livestock welfare innovation – and what Canadian producers need to know to prepare – is the activity led by McDonald's Corporation.
The company serves 69 million customers each day in more than 100 countries. It is the largest procurer of beef in the world by volume and the largest foodservice customer for Canadian beef, all of which is processed at plants in Alberta. It is also a leading customer for Canadian chicken and eggs.
McDonald's has been proactively involved in animal welfare since the mid-1990s, when it established a relationship with renowned animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin and formed its first animal welfare council, which included experts in poultry, swine and beef.
In recent years the company has built aggressively on this legacy, reaching a key milestone in 2012 with the formation of its new Global Animal Health & Welfare Team. Along with Grandin, the lineup of 12 leading academic consultants on the now 40 member team includes Dr. Ed Pajor, who is a Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethology at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM), and a board member of Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC).
Bruce Feinberg, Senior Director, Global Quality, Worldwide Supply Chain Management, McDonald's Corporation, leads the new team. He was a featured speaker at the recent UCVM Beef Cattle Conference in Calgary, where he provided an overview of McDonald's animal welfare approaches and discussed the importance of working together on this issue from the farm to consumer levels.
The 'a-ha' moment
A key part of Feinberg's talk was insight on how McDonald's has made inroads toward increasing awareness of its welfare program. There are many activities and approaches that have contributed over the years. However, Feinberg says a key development recently was a 'tipping point' that occurred in 2011, which has driven how the new global team, along with other fresh components of McDonald's animal welfare activity, are positioned today.
It was an epiphany that emerged during a customer survey component of the company's extensive consumer research. Results showed the term "animal welfare" was typically a source of misunderstanding among customers. However, when the term was paired with the word "health," as in "animal health and welfare," consumers quickly drew a strong connection between the health of the animal and the quality and safety of the food product.
"It was a bit of an 'a-ha' moment," says Feinberg, "particularly for a brand that has built its reputation over the past 45 years on serving safe, quality food in Canada. When we asked 10 different customers to define animal welfare, we would get 10 different responses. But when we changed the nomenclature and asked about animal health and welfare, that's when the conversation really started to shift. Consumers immediately equated healthy animals with safe, quality food."
Connecting with consumers
Discovering the strength of this link gave McDonald's invaluable insight on the potential importance of animal welfare to consumers' value perception, as well as to the core identity of its business. "We decided to link animal health and welfare from that point forward," he says. "It helped consumers understand our work in animal welfare and connect the dots to the quality and safety components that are essential parts of our brand."
Judging from a cross-section of the responses, questions and comments that flowed around Feinberg's talk at the UCVM Beef Cattle conference, there is an important shared lesson in that realization for Canada's beef industry and, ultimately, everyone involved in livestock welfare as it relates to the food business.
"The key learning is that animal welfare is not only about animal welfare," says Feinberg. "It's about food quality and food safety. Ultimately, it's about your product and your reputation."