In U.K., a Focus on Farm-to-Counter Dining

For the past several years, driven in part by the heightened connection consumers have made between ingredient sourcing and the quality of a finished food product, restaurant chains have worked to open a window for consumers into their supply chains. They’ve emphasized their use of local or regional ingredients and products that meet any number of sustainable-sourcing or animal-welfare-related criteria, all in an effort to convey commitments to high-quality menu offerings and social responsibility.

For example, last month McDonald’s U.K. invited three young British farmers to get a behind-the-scenes look at operations inside McDonald’s stores as the culmination of the first year of the chain’s Progressive Young Farmer Training Programme. The mentoring-focused programme, according to McDonald’s, “aims to help young people looking to work within agriculture kick-start careers in the industry by providing them with the blend of farming and business acumen needed to succeed in today’s modern farming sector.”

The programme has the added benefit of helping foster relationships with the next generation of suppliers and providing a fresh, interesting supply-chain story that McDonald’s can share with consumers. “People are now more interested and curious about where their food comes from than ever before,” McDonald’s U.K. Supply Chain Vice President Warren Anderson said in a news release about the programme.

McDonald’s—which also announced in April that it was switching to serving 100% Freedom Food pork raised on farms that meet strict animal-welfare standards—is one of several large U.K. restaurant chains and retailers to shine a spotlight on suppliers and the supply chain. A sample of other chains’ supply-chain initiatives:

  • Pret a Manger, on its website, presents an alphabetical list (from almonds to zahtar [a traditional Middle Eastern spice mix]) of its core ingredients and where they come from. The char-grilled chicken, for example, is starch-free, phosphate-free 100% sliced chicken breast from a higher-welfare supplier in Suffolk.
  • KFC U.K. notes that all Original Recipe chicken on the bone served in U.K. restaurants is raised on British farms and is certified by Assured Food Standards, a British food-quality organization. The chain works with more than 500 British and Irish farms, noting, “We care that our chickens have lived happily, and we love ’em British.” KFC also answers a host of consumer questions on its website about its chicken.
  • Tesco’s new Love Every Mouthful campaign is celebrating Britain’s “national obsession with food and focusing on fresh, British, seasonal produce.” Launching the campaign last month, Tesco U.K. managing director Chris Bush stated that the retailer has been “working hard to build better relationships with our farmers, lengthening contracts and bringing food closer to home.” Tesco will be “sharing with consumers how we get their food from farm to fork and celebrating the best food from across Britain.”
  • Fast-casual burrito specialist Chipotle, whose Food With Integrity philosophy/sourcing model has won acclaim in the U.S., notes on its U.K. website that it uses Freedom Food chicken, Farm Assured beef and free-range pork.

In introducing consumers to the farmers, farms and manufacturers that provide raw or finished materials for a particular restaurant concept, chains can make a big operation seem smaller and more personable. Connecting consumers with not just a brand but the people behind it—up to and including those all the way at the beginning of the supply chain—can serve to build public confidence in the brand.

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Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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