Posted 12 August 2013
Most farmers never have the opportunity to see the wider supply chain they are part of and understand exactly what happens to their produce or how much the other businesses involved in the process depend upon it.
A student from Harper Adams University has been serving customers at McDonald’s restaurants as part of a training programme designed to provide young British farmers with an insight into what consumers want from their food.
Chris Fox has become one of the first youngsters to take part in the McDonald’s Progressive Young Farmer Training Programme, designed to help young people kick-start careers in the farming sector by providing them with the blend of farming and business skills needed to succeed in the industry.
In the final stages of the programme, the 21-year-old, who has just finished his placement year with the company as part of his BSc (Hons) Agriculture course at Harper Adams, recently worked alongside McDonald’s staff giving him the chance to speak to customers first-hand and prepare food using ingredients he has seen grown, reared and harvested.
Over the last 12 months, Chris has traced the entire agricultural supply chain, from farm to restaurant front counter, and been mentored by some of the UK’s most progressive farmers and food producers. The experience has given him an understanding of the whole supply chain, from growing and rearing produce on the farm to serving food to customers at the restaurant counter.
As part of his placement, Chris, who grew up on his family’s sheep, beef and arable farm in Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, spent several months working on a progressive beef farm in West Lothian where he was mentored by the Aitken family. There he learnt not only the practical skills a farmer needs, but also the commercial acumen needed to run a successful farm business.
He also spent time with some of the leading food companies that supply ingredients for the McDonald’s menu including OSI, which supplies the McDonald’s 100 per cent British and Irish beef patties, and potato and fries specialist McCain.
“I was over the moon when I heard McDonald’s had selected me for the training programme,” said Chris, who hopes to return to the family farm and work alongside his dad once he completes his degree.
“Most farmers never have the opportunity to see the wider supply chain they are part of and understand exactly what happens to their produce or how much the other businesses involved in the process depend upon it.
“I’ve loved being in the restaurant and going full circle. It’s been great to see customers enjoy the quality ingredients I helped to produce on farm and at the different food producers that supply McDonald’s menu
“I never thought customer service was important to farming before, but understanding what your customer wants and knowing what they look for in their food is vital to running a successful farming business.
“It made me realise how much more there is to farming than just producing the raw ingredients – it’s also about being business savvy and understanding your customer.”
Chris believes this is an exciting time for young farmers, with the opportunities as well as challenges brought by technological advances and growing global food demand, as well as the industry’s need to attract more young people into the sector.
However, he recognises that he is in a privileged position in having a farm within the family, and thinks many young people are put off the sector by misconceptions about what the job actually involves.
“There are opportunities for would-be farmers out there, but I don’t think they are made aware of the options open to them. You have to put your heart and your soul into this job, but you get a lot of enjoyment from it and the industry is really on the up,” he added.
“It’s great that companies like McDonald’s are giving this boost to help get more young people into farming.”
McDonald’s is one of the biggest customers of British and Irish agriculture, but in order to keep buying its ingredients, the company knows it has to play a part in ensuring the industry has enough young farmers coming through with the right blend of skills.
Warren Anderson, Vice President of Supply Chain, McDonald’s UK, said: “We buy the majority of the quality ingredients we need for our menu from over 17,500 British and Irish farmers. To keep on doing this we need to ensure we support the next generation of passionate food producers, and giving young farmers the rare opportunity to talk to and serve customers in our restaurants will hopefully help them set up and run successful farm businesses in the future.”