MCDONALD'S FOOTPRINT

McDonald's daily services 69 million customers.  Wrap your head around that for a minute.  That's every day more people than live in Britain and France combined.  That's something like 10 New York Cities--EVERY DAY.

 When Eric Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation and explained that McDonald's shaped the American farm system, he was exactly right.  A buyer that big literally dominates policy, protocol, and public perception.  When I visited a 5,000-cow Idaho dairy several years ago and watched tractor trailer loads of potatoes being augered into the confinement cows' feed bunks, I thought about Schlosser's point that McDonald's fries protocol meant that all those that didn't fit the box now had no home in the American food system.

 Can you imagine being at the helm of such an aircraft carrier?  The layers and layers of committees, mid-managers, and relationships if you ever wanted to actually do something different?  Imagine the inertia to change.  Just like you and I, an outfit like that didn't set out to be what it is; it incrementally became this thing over time.  It developed routines, perceptions and assumptions.  Unlike you and me, however, it has an outsized influence.

 Several years ago McDonald's shaved an inch off its napkins.  Nobody noticed, but it saved 3 million pounds of paper.  Can you imagine?  How would you like to have that kind of impact on things?  One inch, 3 million pounds.  Incredible.

 In 2000 McDonald's decided to buy eggs only from chickens that had 72 square inches of space rather than the industry average 48 (that's 6 inches by 8 inches per bird--shape that with your hands and see how you'd like to live in that condition your ENTIRE LIFE).  So now make it 8 inches by 9 inches--that's the new chicken-friendly amount, and ask yourself . . . .

 This post is not to vilify or applaud McDonald's.  It's simply to make us stop for a moment and think about the footprint of an outfit like this.  Thomas Friedman points out that so far, no two countries with a McDonald's have ever gone to war.  Now that, dear folks, is clout.

 So love 'em or hate 'em, McDonald's rules.  I like litmus tests.  Like the litmus test of a true food tribalist is eating leftovers.  And for me, the litmus test that our side is winning a bit is the day McDonald's fears for its livelihood because people are staying away in droves.  That'll be the day.

 How long has it been since you were in a McDonald's?