From the environmental perspective

McDonald’s Polska is an example of how responsible supply chains are built. The company cooperates with local farmers and processors, supporting the model of sustainable agriculture. Anna Borys, Director of Corporate Relations at McDonald’s Polska, tells us about the company’s approach to obtaining sustainable raw materials and the strategy focused on minimizing the environmental footprint.

McDonald’s is a brand recognizable by almost every Pole. However, not everyone knows what role your company plays on the Polish agricultural market. How do you use the scale of your activities to support sustainable agriculture in Poland?
2022 is the year of McDonald’s jubilee in Poland. For 30 years we have been developing in the right direction, influencing the economy, local communities and the supply chain. We cooperate with 47 Polish suppliers, mainly from the agri-food sector and tens of thousands of farmers. We employ more than 40,000 people throughout the entire supply chain and the restaurants. In 2019 alone, we purchased groceries in the amount of PLN 481 million.

Our relationships with suppliers are based on long-term cooperation, trust and joint investments in development and innovation. One of the areas we are consistently working on with our partners is sustainable agriculture and livestock farming.

An example is Green Factory – once a small family business, today a leader in the category of low-processed food. Thanks to the appropriate cultivation methods, the company does not use any chemicals in production, reduces factors with a negative impact on the atmosphere, water and soil and uses natural resources sparingly.

Another example is the producer of French fries from Lębork – Farm Frites Poland SA. Nothing is wasted during the production process in the plant – production waste is converted into biogas, and special technological lines allow to reduce water consumption. The company purchases potatoes from local farmers operating in accordance with best practices.

In addition, in all markets where McDonald’s operates, we run the Flagship Farmers program, which aims to promote good practices in sustainable agriculture and inspire others to join this trend of production. There are two such model farms in Poland, willingly visited by domestic and foreign guests. One of them is Farm Frites Dwa, which uses agricultural practices that improve soil health, reduce emissions as well as air and water pollution, give way to waste management and introduce precision farming technologies that help protect biodiversity and reduce environmental interference.

The second flagship farm staying in line with sustainable cattle breeding practices is run by Mr. Adam Warnke.

How do you understand sustainability? What place does it have in your business strategy?
Thinking from the perspective of the environment has been an integral part of McDonald’s operations for many years. Since 2018, we have been implementing a long-term strategy that includes acting for the benefit of the climate in many areas. One of the key ones is to use only renewable, recycled or certified packaging and to recycle all packaging from restaurants by 2025, and by 2030 we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 36% from restaurants and offices and by 31% throughout the supply chain.

McDonald’s strategy, commonly referred to as the “three-legged stool”, is based on three equivalent pillars: the company, the franchisees and the suppliers. What connects them are our values. Such a comprehensive approach and the scale of McDonald’s mean that we have a real impact on the surroundings.

In 2021, we joined the United Nations ‘Race to Zero’ campaign to achieve carbon neutrality and the ‘Business Ambition for 1.5°C’ campaign that aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Accordingly, we have made a global commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the most.

An example of our activities is McDonald’s approach to waste management. On the one hand, we strive to reduce plastic as much as possible. Already today, as much as 70% of the raw materials used in the production of packaging are paper, and this is not our last word. We are also changing the paradigm of thinking about waste, giving it a second life to and treating it as valuable raw materials. We have created an original closed-loop system, the first step of which is to educate our guests and encourage them to properly use segregation bins present in all McDonald’s restaurants in Poland. The second step is to process paper after used packaging, which again returns to our restaurants, but in a different form, e.g. as towels or toilet paper.

Another example is our long-term cooperation with suppliers, which in some cases lasts even 30 years. It is based on trust, joint development and investment in modern technologies. Among the 47 Polish companies supplying products to McDonald’s are enterprises operating in accordance with the principles of sustainable development, using precision farming methods. As one of the key recipients of Polish beef, we also carry out intensive work on the implementation of the principles of sustainable breeding in tens of thousands of farms with which we cooperate, with particular emphasis on animal welfare and reducing the impact on the natural environment.

We have been developing in the right direction for 30 years of operation in Poland. Undoubtedly, one of our priorities is sustainability – at the corporate level, our restaurants and in the supply chain. We responsibly approach the impact we have on the environment, which is why we cooperate with the best experts in this field, such as the Polish Association of Sustainable Agriculture “ASAP”. It has a very effective platform that allows us to share best practices in sustainable development with farmers, and we would like to see the best solutions for sustainable farming to be implemented on as many farms as possible with a positive impact on farmers and the environment.

Can you tell us more about how the potatoes that are used to make your fries are grown?
Fries available in every McDonald’s restaurant in Poland always come from the same source – from the Farm Frites Poland factory in Lębork. Specially selected potato varieties – Ludmilla and Innovator are grown on an area of approx. 1,500 hectares of Polish fields. Most of them are located in the north of the country.

The story of a potato that will become an iconic fry and then go to a McDonald’s restaurant begins with choosing the right field. This choice concerns not only the type of soil, but also its condition, which determines the success of the crop. Therefore, even before planting the seed material the soil is carefully tested for the presence of essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium or magnesium, as well as for pH value. While the presence of these minerals in the soil determines the proper development of plants during the growing season, its proper acidity is responsible for the assimilation of these nutrients.

This soil testing is one of the practices of sustainable agriculture, which allows to precisely determine the need of plants for nutrients, thus avoiding their excessive supply, which harms the natural environment. The fertilizing of potato fields makes use of the latest technology based on GPS and solutions that allow for accurate application of nutrients. This technology makes it possible to differentiate doses within the field and to apply them in strictly designated locations. This is done through digital fertilization maps, created on the basis of previously performed soil tests and maps of its variability.

Before the seed material reaches the soil, it is subjected to destoning and aerating. While the first activity is optional, the second is necessary to ensure that the seed potatoes will receive adequate physical conditions for proper development. The good physical structure of the soil largely determines the success of the crop, therefore, as far as possible, most of the treatments that are performed on the field with use of heavy machinery and attachments are combined. In this way, excessive compaction of the soil and disruption of its air and water circulation is prevented. The activities strengthening the condition of the soil for potato cultivation are complemented by good agricultural practices aimed at maintaining an appropriate level of organic matter in it, such as: crop rotation, sowing after-crops (green manure), or leaving the crop residues on the field and plowing it to mix them with the soil.

Potatoes are planted by planters with ridge forming attachments using GPS technology. The operation is therefore carried out precisely, and the placement of the seed material and the formation of ridges takes place in one pass of the machine through the field.

The protection of potato plantation begins with good quality seed material, coming from certified and proven suppliers who guarantee a product free from diseases. The second step is to plan treatments basing on many years of agricultural experience and a computerized decision support system. This system creates decision models including the date, type of plant protection product and intensity of treatment based on data on the potato variety, the stage of development of the plantation and the current weather situation. Thanks to this, it is possible to act on time with an adequate dose of plant protection products. Step three is a precise application of the agent using GPS technology and a digital application map that controls the work of the sprayer. The design of the machine allows the treatment to be performed in an economical and environmentally safe way. It allows not only to vary the dosage within the field, but also to omit pieces of its surface that do not require treatment. This technology also avoids the overlap spraying and spreading the spray stream beyond the field boundaries.

Due to the need to protect natural resources, potato plantations are irrigated only in a situation when there is a risk of plants suffering a severe water deficiency stress. In order to respond in time and adequately to their needs, potato fields are equipped with soil moisture measurement sensors, which regularly send information about the current hydrological situation using remote connectivity. These data are fed into a computerized decision support system which, based on them and an individual weather forecast, creates simulations of the starting point and intensity of irrigation. This system allows for available water resources to be managed in a more sustainable way.

The time of starting the potato harvest is determined by the appropriate maturity and the desired dry matter level in tubers. This is the moment when the desiccation procedure is carried out and then after about 3 weeks potatoes are harvested.  Harvesting is carried out at a moderate air temperature, not lower than 7°C and with optimal soil moisture. At this stage, it is crucial to maintain the best possible quality of potatoes, so special attention is paid to the harvesting parameters, i.e. the work of the harvester or loading conditions which are aimed at avoiding damages like cutting and bruising the tubers. Maintaining good product quality is important from the point of view of being able to store potatoes without problems over a longer period and to obtain high quality fries.

Carefully harvested potatoes go to a storage room, where they undergo a drying and healing process before they are cooled to the temperature required for their long-term storage. The climate in the storage room is controlled automatically while its parameters such as temperature, humidity or carbon dioxide concentration are subjected to regular checks. Throughout the entire storage period, the quality of the product is also verified because it should remain unchanged until the potatoes are delivered to the Farm Frites Poland factory in Lębork.

Every year, over 50,000 tons of potatoes are processed for McDonald’s restaurants in Poland. Both the cultivation of fields and the processing in our supplier’s plant are carried out in accordance with the best agricultural practices which guarantee not only excellent product quality, but also maximum protection of natural resources.

Can you tell us where your beef comes from and what breeding practices your suppliers use?
The beef from which burgers are made in McDonald’s restaurants comes from our supplier – OSI Food Solutions which cooperates with tens of thousands of Polish breeders. Together with this company, we have developed the CULTIVATE Sustainable Beef Standard to apply the best breeding and animal welfare practices, reduce antibiotics and operate in a manner that reduces environmental impact while maintaining the highest health and safety standards while ensuring farm profitability. By the end of 2021, we have audited 23,000 livestock farms. In addition, we educate the breeders cooperating with us on animal health and welfare during free stall breeding or transport.

We are a member of the Polish Sustainable Beef Platform. Together with organizations from the meat sector and the Ministry of Agriculture, we develop and implement standards limiting the impact of production on the environment (reduction of CO2, reduction of the use of antibiotics, ensuring animal welfare and farm management methods to reduce the use of natural resources). Our goal is for our guests to be sure that the beef in our burgers is not only of the highest quality, but also bred in a sustainable way. We are already trying to develop a system of good practices so that in the near future the balance of farms where it was bred will be climate neutral.

Do the vegetables used in your restaurants also come from Poland?
Yes. McDonald’s suppliers of vegetables are the companies Green  Factory and Eisberg.

The experience of many generations, own raw material base, skillful use of market trends and consistent and constant development made it possible that within a dozen or so years Green Factory from a small family-owned and local market company has developed into one of the most important producers of fresh vegetables in Poland and a leader in the category of low-processed food.

All production takes place in plants with a total area of 19,000 m2. The company’s farms are located in Poland. One facility is located west of Warsaw, the other in Niepruszewo near Poznań. The company uses raw materials exclusively from domestic and foreign suppliers who guarantee a high level of cultivation culture, and who have implemented certified systems in processing plants – FSSC FFBBB, VFS, SQMS, VSO I4BBI. All activities are carried out while caring for the natural environment and rational use of natural resources. At each stage of production, pro-ecological technologies are used, which reduce factors that pollute the atmosphere, water and soil.

In everyday production practice, one main direction has been set that reflects the entire philosophy of Green Factory: fresh raw material from traditional crops, production based solely on natural processes with the lowest possible level of interference in processed agricultural products. To meet these ambitious goals, Green Factory rigorously adheres to several key principles: it cooperates only with certified suppliers of raw materials that guarantee the absence of chemical residues, does not use chemicals. In addition, it uses only crystal-clear water and filtered air. The water temperature is not higher than 4°C, so as not to rinse out the most valuable things from salad leaves along with the cell juice.  All natural contaminants from the natural environment around the growing areas are removed only by natural processes – washing, sedimentation, inspection based on optical sorters.

It is also worth mentioning that the grain for the flour for our burgers also comes 100% from Poland.  The annual consumption of flour by McDonald’s is 10,437 tons. McDonald’s burger rolls are delivered by Aryzta from Strzegom.

What business practices do you use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
In 2020, we were able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from restaurants and offices by 8.6% compared to the base year and by 5.7% throughout the supply chain.

Comparing the data on greenhouse gas emissions, we can conclude that by meeting our climate goals, which assume a reduction in emissions by 2030, we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 36% from restaurants and offices and by 31% throughout the supply chain.  Globally, we have committed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the most.

Since the beginning of our activity in Poland, we have been cooperating with the company HAVI, which is responsible, among others, for the transport and the supplies for restaurants. One of the basic assumptions of this cooperation is the maximum shortening of the supply chain and thus the reduction of CO2 emissions.

In order to achieve the assumed goals, the frequency of deliveries to McDonald’s restaurants is outlined and the task of HAVI is to plan its activities in such a way as to drive as few kilometers as possible in this process. Due to the extensively developed network of customers, HAVI combines deliveries for various partners which significantly reduces the number of kilometers to be traveled and hence reduces CO2 emissions. A significant difference in this aspect was made possible by the opening of the fourth distribution center in Poland.

Please tell us what happens with the food waste and garbage that is created in your restaurants?
At McDonald’s, we don’t waste food. Thanks to the “Made for You” system, the product is prepared after it has been ordered and paid by the guest, which gives us full control over the optimal use of partially-finished products in restaurants. Therefore, the level of losses is minimal, certainly much lower than the average in the catering industry (about 10% according to EC data). However, if any amount of biodegradable waste or swill is left, it is used in biogas plants. A good example is also our system of transferring the used oil to refineries as a raw material for the production of biofuel for cars with diesel engines.

If we have to use packaging, we minimize the raw materials from which it will be produced at the stage of its design. In addition, raw materials the packaging is made of must be recyclable in the future. An example of the effectiveness of our circular economy system is the fact that we recover fibers from our packaging (paper and paper-coated) that are an excellent raw material for recycling. The end product of this system is paper towels and toilet paper, which are returned to our premises.

What are the sources of the electricity used at McDonald’s?
More than 70% of McDonald’s restaurants in Poland use only energy from renewable sources.

In the vast majority of restaurants, we use recuperation systems, i.e. heat recovery. Heat exchangers located in heating and cooling devices on the roofs of the buildings are used to heat the premises. In winter, they use the heat radiated by kitchen appliances to heat the air taken in from the outside.

In addition, since 2017 every newly opened restaurant has been equipped with a CO2 sensor which automatically regulates the airflow in the room depending on the number of guests. The sensor analyzes the level of CO2  concentration and depending on it regulates the supply of fresh and recirculated air.

Apart from this, most McDonald’s restaurants in Poland have the energy monitoring system installed. It makes it possible to generate data backwards – even up to 5 years, in several minute increments. This allows us to verify that all appliances in the kitchen have been turned on or off in the correct order. This is meant to eliminate the formation of energy peaks. Thanks to the remote system, the person responsible for the control can verify that the devices have been turned off overnight and that they are not consuming energy unnecessarily. McDonald’s also has a system for monitoring fans and air conditioning devices. It is also important that all lighting is based on LED technology. Such activities optimize the electricity consumption in our restaurants.

Thank you for the interview.