A&W Canada is leading the charge for sustainability in Fast Food

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As I was trying to find something to blog about this week, I got hungry and decided to head to A&W for a burger. To my surprise, once I got my order and sat down to eat the topic of this blog post was literally in the palm of my hand.

Like the title of this blog says, I think that A&W Canada is leading the way to sustainability for the fast food industry. When I looked down at my burger and fries I noticed something different with the packaging. They weren’t in the typical cardboard boxes that you would expect to find at McDonald’s or Burger King. Instead they were packaged in smaller sleeve-like packaging that was also compostable and contain at least 70% recycled material.

In addition to their packaging, there is also the A&W Pure Beef Guarantee, which means that they only use 100% pure beef that’s free from hormones, steroids and preservatives. In order to ensure that this standard is always met, A&W is very selective with their value chain partners and only select cattle from ranches and their local partners that are ethical, have sustainable practices and follow stringent standards. I’m sure we’ve all seen their commercial by now, and if you haven’t I’ve posted it below. To learn all about A&W’s Better Beef, click here.

A&W does a lot more to reduce their environmental impact and you can read more on their website here.

I found A&W’s beef policy to be quite intriguing and very relevant to what’s been in the news lately regarding McDonalds’ quest for sustainable beef. For years fast food companies have been pumping out tons of burgers with meat that consumers have never been quite sure about. Consumers know that in general fast food is not good for you, yet the main ingredient in a burger, the beef, has slid under the radar in terms of quality control. We never really know what’s in the burger that we’re eating or how many chemicals, additives and antibiotics have been added or fed to the cows.  That’s why A&W’s transparency with their beef is like a breath of fresh air. Not to mention, I definitely see A&W’s Better Beef as a point of differentiation and an opportunity to gain more consumer goodwill and market share in the fast food industry. I definitely see it as one reason why McDonalds launched their search for sustainable beef in January 2014.

According to a Mother Jones article, McDonalds and the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) have recently released a draft definition for sustainable beef. An interesting note that was mentioned in the article is that the GRSB is actually more of a meat industry group, rather than an environmental organization as there are only 2 representatives from environmental groups in the roundtable. The article is very critical of the GRSB’s findings and calls out the report for being very vague, speaking in very general terms and avoiding metrics that would help measure sustainability. One quote that really stood out to me from this article is that a spokesperson for the GRSB said that “I don’t know if there’s any justification for banning antibiotics in feed.” Currently 4/5 of all antibiotics in the US go to livestock operations, including those of McDonalds, and it has been scientifically linked that the use of antibiotics increases the frequency of antibiotic-resistant bugs moving from animals to humans.

The point of this is that unlike their competitors, A&W doesn’t need to hear from a roundtable of experts to decide on what is sustainable or not. They are using their heads to identify right from wrong, and taking the initiative to be transparent with their customers. Even though I may not have all the information I really commend A&W for their sustainability efforts and their initiative to provide customers with better beef. It’s still fast food and not necessarily good for you, but at least its better.

What do you think?

-AK

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One thought on “A&W Canada is leading the charge for sustainability in Fast Food

  1. Alvin Go says:

    Hey Andrew.

    Sustainable sourcing of ingredients truly becoming a huge trend today especially in North America. There are a lot of farm-to-table restaurants that serve locally-sourced, organic food, and because of this, they have a huge opportunity to charge a premium for their dishes. If you’re interested, check my third blog post. Ha!

    I was actually quite shocked that A&W started this initiative. Being a fast food chain entails a lot of challenges in sourcing their ingredients. It has to be processed in overwhelmingly huge quantities at a very low cost. Practicing sustainable sourcing of food just did not seem to be feasible for fast food chains.

    To be honest, I questioned their claims when they first started launching this campaign. I was very skeptical with their claims at first. For example, I always considered their claim of “100% beef” to be of no value. Of course their beef has to be 100% beef. Fat is still part of the beef. For me, it’s like saying the sky is 100% air.

    Nevertheless, I started accepting the fact that there might be some truth to their claims because ads are regulated by the government (haha!). If they are misleading people, they would get sanctioned and would lose their customers, and I do believe they are smarter than that. All doubts aside, I highly commend A&W as well for starting this practice. It takes a lot of risks to implement something that would challenge people’s perception of an entire industry (people might think fast food = poor quality of food due to mass production).

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