McDonald’s and other fast food, good news for Oregon producers

With the golden arches of McDonald’s leading the
way, quick service restaurants are providing a large and important market for Oregon’s agricultural producers. From the locally-grown
onions and cucumbers that end up on hamburgers to the potatoes used for French fries, McDonald’s and others have developed a relationship with Pacific Northwest growers that seems to be working for both parties.

“In terms of sheer numbers, quick service restaurants represent one of the single largest outlets for Oregon agricultural products,” says
Dalton Hobbs, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “One chain alone- McDonald’s- is a huge volume purchaser of Oregon farm products.”

The numbers back up the claim. In the past year, McDonald’s local produce purchased from Oregon includes more than 320 million pounds of
potatoes, 1.5 million pounds of onions, and almost 5 million pounds of cucumbers that are processed into pickles. Add locally produced cheese, ice cream, buns, and now apples as part of an expanding menu, and it is hard to deny the important role quick service restaurants are
playing as an end market for what Oregon produces.

“Much of our agriculture would not look the same if it wasn’t for food service operators like McDonald’s and others who source large amounts of Oregon product,” says Hobbs. “Consumers should realize that when they go to a restaurant, even though it may not be labeled ‘grown in Oregon’, there is a high likelihood the food they purchase comes from
producers in Oregon, Washington, or Idaho.”

Purchases by quick service restaurants of basic foods like potatoes for French fries and hash browns are made through large Oregon operators such as J.R. Simplot and Lamb Weston, which is owned by ConAgra Foods. However, those companies obtain their product from local growers who depend on giants like McDonald’s as customers.

“Having well-known institutional and quick service customers speaks highly of the product Oregon agriculture has to offer,” says Bob Levy of American Onion, Inc. of Hermiston. Levy and his partners, Bob and Rick Hale, produce onions that often end up in quick service restaurants. “These are customers that not only need to fill large orders, but recognize quality and value in buying local.”

The same kind of advantage of locally-grown products touted by farmers markets and white tablecloth restaurants is also true of quick service eateries.

“Just because there seems to be a McDonald’s on every other street corner in America doesn’t mean their food comes from a large, faraway factory,” says Levy. “At least for those restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, much of the menu can be traced back to the local producers who contribute to Oregon’s agricultural economy. That also means
fresh, good tasting food for the consumer.”

Despite its common image of a worldwide corporate entity, McDonald’s is quick to point out that they are owned and operated by local folks. So it just makes sense to support local agriculture.

“The McDonald’s owner/operators of Oregon and Southwest Washington take great pride in being a part of their local communities, which includes
supporting local farms and helping to create more jobs,” says Kim Bayer, West Division marketing director for McDonald’s.

Other menu items at the golden arches have direct ties to Oregon. Thanks to its Tillamook Cheddar Big n’ Tasty burger and its dessert
offerings, McDonald’s this year has purchased 1,180 cases of cheese and nearly 30,000 three-gallon tubs of ice cream from the Tillamook County Creamery Association. Annually, more than 214 million buns come out of the Washington-based McDonald’s bakery, consisting of Pacific Northwest wheat.

While Pacific Northwest-grown foods end up in Oregon McDonald’s, some make it to the rest of the U.S. and the international market. In 2004,
Simplot supplied 394 million pounds of potatoes to McDonald’s domestic restaurants and a whopping 1.4 billion pounds to McDonald’s in other countries. Lamb Weston sent 82 million pounds to U.S. restaurants and 22 million pounds to international McDonald’s restaurants.

McDonald’s shopping list includes ingredients for a new, health-oriented menu. Last summer, McDonald’s started offering apple slices with a caramel dipping sauce. That was followed up with a new fruit salad. Up to 54 million pounds of apples are used each year to fulfill the needs of the new menu. While many of the apples are grown in the State of Washington, Oregon growers also benefit from McDonald’s new tastes.

“Certainly, recent changes in the McDonald’s menu are an opportunity for our growers,” says Laura Dovey, spokesperson for Tree Top, which uses apples grown in Hood River and Milton-Freewater among other Pacific Northwest orchards. “People today are very busy and want healthy food options, fast. From the growers’ perspective, the opportunity is an additional outlet for their apples. Traditionally, Tree Top growers have sold some apples on the fresh market and some were processed, either as juice, applesauce, or an ingredient in other food items. Recent years have seen the development of a market for fresh sliced apples, as well. Apple Dippers and the Fruit & Walnut Salad at McDonald’s are two excellent examples. It’s positive all around. Growers have more options for their fruit. McDonald’s has a broader menu. Consumers can have healthy food on the go.”

Other quick service restaurants also provide menu choices that vary from the standard burger and fries. Oregon’s reputation for high quality and good taste plays an important role in supplying items for salads, fruit cups, and other offerings. ODA’s Hobbs is hoping the McDonald’s example will encourage others to buy local.

“It’s no accident that companies like McDonald’s look to Oregon because we are able to consistently produce a high quality product,” says Hobbs. “We feel that as menus change or perhaps even stay the same, Oregon’s reputation for quality will continue to play an important role in the future.”

For more information, contact Dalton Hobbs at (503) 872-6600.