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French fries, bread and chicken: how McDonald’s improved its image among farmers

Hay spread throughout the restaurant, in front of disbelieving employees.

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French fries, bread and chicken: how McDonald’s improved its image among farmers

Hay spread throughout the restaurant, in front of disbelieving employees. Images of the action of farmers in a McDonald's in Agen, in the midst of professional discontent, on January 24, made the rounds on social networks. We are a long way from the dismantling of the McDonald's in Millau in 1999, by José Bové and the Confédération paysanne, which left its mark. But 25 years later, the American fast-food chain continues to be the target of farmers' distrust.

However, McDonald's France has carefully showcased its attachment and contribution to French agriculture for more than 20 years. The catering giant - two million meals served per day in France - insists that 75% of its agricultural raw materials are French. Advertising campaigns, farm visits and even a stand at the Agricultural Show: the brand spares no effort to make this known. To the point of saying it is “very aligned with the current demands of farmers, particularly on remuneration and the challenge of transmission”, slips Rémi Rocca, senior director impact France at McDonald's.

The French subsidiary ensures that it pays farmers at “a remunerative price based on production costs”, and claims to sign multi-year contracts with as many producers as possible to guarantee them an income “independently of market fluctuations”, explains Rémi Rocca. “As we don’t change partners every four mornings, we have time to sit around a table to talk.” Nearly 3,000 farmers had formalized their relationship with the company in 2022. A figure far from anecdotal.

The wheat used in the burger buns is 100% French, assures McDonald's, the same for the chicken nuggets (manufactured by two suppliers in Loiret and Pas-de-Calais). The fries all come from French potatoes processed in the McCain factory in Marne, but not the potatoes, made in the Netherlands where the supplier is located who “has the expertise of the product”, explains Rémi Rocca.

McDonald's has communicated extensively on the subject since the end of the 1990s. It was to reassure people about the origin of its steaks during the two mad cow crises that the French subsidiary began to highlight their origin in campaigns advertising. And it was to stop being singled out as a symbol of bad practices that she invited herself to the Agricultural Show.

A good way to counter preconceived ideas among the first interested parties. “It was during discussions [at the show] that many farmers discovered that we were their customers,” says the architect of this strategy, former communicator and then CEO of McDonald’s France, Jean-Pierre Petit. , in his book I Sold My Soul to McDonald's.

At the same time, the American Frenchified its products to gain acceptance - both from consumers and farmers - with the introduction of AOP cheeses, burgers with Charolais meat... "They are truly exemplary in the sourcing of French products", whispered one executive of the powerful agricultural union FNSEA in Le Figaro at the end of January, after the ransacking of the McDonald's in Agen, which he considered "stupid".

Despite all these efforts, there remain blind spots in the fast-food giant's supply chain. During an action against a McDonald's - and a Burger King - in Vesoul last November, the FDSEA of Haute-Saône denounced the brands' "massive importation of meat of foreign origin", particularly pointing out the issue of beef, the main ingredient of their burgers.

McDonald's recognizes that its steaks are not 100% French - it is obliged to display their origin in restaurants anyway. Just under half of its supply is imported from Ireland and the Netherlands. “We are at our maximum capacity in France,” defends Rémi Rocca, who mentions a lack of cows fat enough to meet the chain’s specifications. He recalls that the brand purchased, in 2022, 21,950 tonnes of French beef and ensures “working with the beef industry” to improve this point in its strategy.

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