Burger battles are heating up.
Burger King is expanding sales of the Impossible Burger, a plant-based product, which surprisingly tastes like beef. McDonald’s is now offering “fresh beef,” which has not been frozen. A McDonald’s beef supplier says the burger is better tasting, but the supply chain is more complex.
Oklahoma City based processor Lopez Foods is one of five providers across the United States, which supplies beef to McDonald’s. It is a relationship that has been ongoing for decades. John Patrick Lopez, of Lopez Foods, recently sat down with Radio Oklahoma Network farm director Ron Hays to discuss the company’s role as a supplier to a major restaurant chain and how it has helped to pivot McDonald’s hamburger product line.
According to Lopez, Lopez Foods originally began supplying McDonald’s with fresh beef patties back in 1968. He explained that as the company grew, it eventually switched its order from fresh to frozen beef patties to compensate for emerging logistical challenges. Over the past few years though, McDonald’s has been working with Lopez Foods to make the switch back to fresh patties. Since then, Lopez says customers have noticed the difference.
“Lopez Foods led the way for the fresh beef program for McDonald’s,” Lopez said. “We’re very proud of that. It is a wonderful product.”
After McDonald’s made its request to develop a fresh beef program, that could accommodate its current supply chain, Lopez says his company began targeting the iconic Quarter Pounder® patty. For several years, he says the company worked to perfect its fresh beef patty, developing it in a way, which would neither jeopardize taste, quality nor safety. In the end, Lopez says they delivered a patty that when cooked to their exact specifications is better, hotter and juicier. The product was first sold in test markets before its official debut in 2018. Lopez says consumers immediately noticed the difference and since then sales have shown increased consumer enthusiasm.
“They could tell immediately there was a quality difference. People who were occasional customers said they would come by more frequently. That’s when we knew we had a home run,” Lopez said.
Who will win the game is unknown, but McDonald’s is staying with beef and encouraging its suppliers to be transparent and tell their consumers about efforts to be sustainable and environmentally sensitive. They are also trying to make a better burger that brings consumers back for another.
Lopez says while delivering a better product certainly helps drive consumer demand, another important component in successful marketing these days is making sure to share the industry’s story of sustainability. This, he says, has become an important issue to consumers in recent years as they have become more aware of where their food comes from. He adds that if the industry is not vocal about its own sustainable efforts, critics will fill that void with their own rhetoric.
“If we don’t tell our story, someone else will tell it for us and as a result, it will negatively impact either a product or a business or a category,” Lopez said. “If you don’t engage with your consumers in terms of transparency and tell your story – invite them in, share what you do – they won’t believe you.”