Transparency IQ @ Hamburger U

Posted in Food Safety on Jul 04, 2018

Sumfood attended the recent Transparency IQ conference at the Hyatt Lodge at McDonald's original Hamburger University. As much a museum to American fast food as a conference center, Hamburger U offered plenty of distractions during the day-long gathering focused on the 'revolutionary force of product transparency and its ability to drive consumer trust and brand loyalty in the CPG and retail industry.' No surprise that tour groups wandered about throughout the day, including this woman taking a seat beside a life-size Ronald McDonald.

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Hamburger U's campus is in the leafy Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, IL. Built in the 1978, it's 'graduated' over 80,000 restaurant managers, mid-managers and owner/operators. McDonald's has begun transferring its training facilities to a new Chicago location, but regardless of the campus's future, the 'Golden Arches' is tattooed throughout the building, as demonstrated below.

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The day featured a variety of speakers presenting similar takes on transparency in the food industry. During a discussion about the future of retail and consumer industries, Casey Carl, former Chief Strategy Officer at Target, offered a bittersweet story from the past about the giant brick-and-mortar retailer allowing Amazon to run its website from 2001-10 ("Amazon got tons of insight -- Target got nothing.") Speaking about the corporate value of transparency, Anne Bernier, Sr. Director Business Process Strategy at Topco, stressed how corporations shouldn't underestimate consumers' desire for advanced data while extolling the value of online databases for products.

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Roxi Beck from the Center for Food Integrity explained -- using warmer, friendlier graphics than at previous conferences like the one above -- the 'dangerous' disconnect between consumers and Big Food. Roxi described how general social shifts (authority granted by office to authority granted by relationships / social consensus driven by WASP men to consensus via a diversity of voices / formal communication to informal / progress is inevitable to progress is only possible through effort) affect consumer behavior, and the power of feelings and beliefs over actual knowledge. An interesting research finding: shared values are 3.5 times more important than facts. Explains a lot in the USA at the moment.

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After a lunch that did not include Big Macs and/or chocolate shakes, Erin Hennessey, Trade Standards Director at Procter & Gamble gave a jargon-heavy take on introducing a culture of transparency to a corporate giant like her employer. Coming from a start-up in Auckland, NZ it was fascinating to encounter an obviously skilled, educated and driven person speaking the P&G lingua, confidently remarking "it no longer feels like Cascade, it no longer feels like Crest" and knowing it would be understood by her marketing-besieged and therefore brand-savvy American audience.

A group panel of small-business owners devolved into promotional introductions dominated by an overzealous moderator, though we found one line -- "small foods create a Disneyland within supermarkets, differentiating the retail shopping experience from Amazon's." The following presentation was similarly self-promotional, only it was a lone representative of a single company beholden to remarks like "this technology represents a 10 times leap into the future" and repeated mentions of a "user journey" he seemed to think attendees of a food transparency conference would be interested in.

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The last scheduled speaker was Jay Porter of CPG consulting firm Edelman Chicago. His fact-filled presentation consisted of images like the ones above that grabbed the attention of decision makers pondering the expansion of technology in their businesses. One pithy remark captured the current landscape facing technology innovators: "science can't agree ... government won't regulate"

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A final guest speaker was Sam Kass, former White House chef for the Obamas, who sat for an informal chat with Patrick Moorhead, Chief Marketing Officer of Label Insight. Unsurprisingly a big believer in transparency, Kass believes it forces "quality, integrity and authenticity" upon companies that fully embrace it.

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Before leaving we strolled past display cases bursting with McDonald's history, including one with a Malt-a-Mix machine Ray Kroc peddled to the company's founders before he purchased their restaurant and embarked upon his campaign that would take McDonald's around the world ...

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... the original (and kinda creepy) Ronald McDonald costume ...

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... 70 years of McDonald's uniforms ...

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... and a recreation of Ray Kroc's office.

As we stepped out into a pleasant spring evening, we couldn't help but notice that yes, the interior of Hamburger U definitely smelled like hamburgers.