McDonald’s promotes coffee sustainability efforts

by JulieCraves on September 24, 2013

McD-RA-promoMcDonald’s is launching a campaign aimed to educate the public about their efforts in sourcing coffee sustainably, which I wrote about in March. To recap, the corporation’s North American operations is investing over $6 million to provide education and training to more than 13,000 Guatemalan coffee farmers to increase their capacity for sustainable coffee production.

As I noted in the previous post, the investment in technical assistance to farmers builds on the commitment to purchase increasing amounts of certified coffee, primarily from farms certified by Rainforest Alliance. Currently, all coffee at McDonald’s locations in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, and all coffee for espresso-based drinks in the U.S. and Canada, is sourced from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms. All coffee, except for decaf, in Europe is also Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, or UTZ certified. In 2011, certified purchases amounted to about 10,400 metric tons. In 2012, 25% of their global coffee purchases were certified; in the U.S. the figure was 14.8% (actual volume figures are not available).

While $6 million is not much money for a multi-billion corporation, keep in mind that coffee is not McDonald’s primary business, and that they only really entered the premium coffee market segment in 2006. They do not source coffee directly, but rely on a suite of suppliers. And, as previously pointed out, even the small amount of certified coffee McDonald’s purchased for North American (around 3800 tons) was more than coffee giants JM Smuckers (1500 tons) and Nestlé’s (2000 tons) total certified global purchases combined! And McDonald’s 14.8% certified U.S. purchases also dwarf Smucker’s 0.5% (and Smucker’s goal is only 10% by 2016). Whereas Smuckers has been dragged reluctantly into modest sustainability efforts, and Nestlé has rejected third-party certifications, McDonald’s has chosen to go with Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, and  UTZ Certified because they felt the certification criteria of those organizations were best aligned with the company’s vision.


Although millions of Americans guzzle coffee every day, not very many are aware of where the daily fix comes from, how it is grown, and the issues that impact coffee farmers and the environment (hence this blog!). McDonald’s wants to familiarize with the public with these issues and how specifically the company is approaching enhancing sustainability in their coffee supply chain. Their connection with Rainforest Alliance will be featured in their ads, in stores, and other promotional assets. Many people that are “into” coffee and drink specialty coffee know about coffee certifications and Rainforest Alliance. I’d venture an educated guess that most people who usually get their coffee away from home at fast-food restaurants have no notion about certifications or coffee sustainability. The ubiquity, popularity, and marketing power of McDonald’s can go a very long way in introducing these issues to the general public.

The next step is increasing the amount of certified coffee they purchase for drip coffee in North America; I hope the majority will be Rainforest Alliance.  McDonald’s has brought their suppliers (S&D Coffee & Tea, Gavina Gourmet Coffee, Farmer Brothers, and Mother Parkers) to the table to address this goal and provide the company with a sequenced plan. These are four of the largest coffee suppliers in North America — providing well over 100,000 tons of coffee annually for foodservice, private label, convenience stores, and their own brands. Currently S&D, the largest of the four, has the best sustainable-coffee commitment, offering a number of certified coffees, including their own line of Bird-Friendly certified coffee [NOTE: S&D was purchased by another company in 2020]. Farmer Brothers has just released its first, baseline sustainability report, where it states it now buys 9% “sustainable” coffee (which amounts to about 3500 tons). Gavina and Mother Parkers don’t provide much detail on similar offerings. This presents a golden opportunity for the Golden Arches. The ability of McDonald’s to influence the purchasing of their suppliers means this initiative has great potential to increase demand for certified, sustainably-grown coffees. Perhaps most importantly, I think that a significant increase in the volume of coffee destined for drip in North America, combined with the visibility and marketing power of McDonald’s, has the potential to really propel coffee sustainability issues into the mainstream.

You can see more at the coffee sustainability section of their website. More detail is promised in McDonald’s next corporate sustainability report, due out next spring. I’ll be reporting on it.

Revised on February 5, 2022

Posted in Corporate coffee,McDonald's

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