01/22/2013 08:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

McDonald's App Offers Ingredient Sourcing Info

In the U.S., McDonald's "What We're Made Of" food-quality campaign includes TV spots introducing its suppliers, such as potato grower Frank Martinez and cattle rancher Steve Foglesong. But in Australia McDonald's is using a variety of high-tech tools to go even deeper with its food sourcing/quality message, allowing diners to track the ingredients in the food they are about to eat.

That's made possible by a free iPhone app called TrackMyMacca's (using the Aussie nickname for McDonald's) that can be downloaded via Facebook or iTunes. The app reads code on food packaging (150 million pieces of which were reprinted for the effort), which uses GPS tracking to identify in which McDonald's restaurant a diner has purchased the food. Image-activation software identifies the specific food purchased and all this info, combined with the date and time, is cross-referenced with McDonald's supply-chain data.


The app then pinpoints where (the bakery, ranch, farm, canner, etc., often by name) the ingredients in the food about to be consumed originated.

Further, all this data is brought to life on the iPhone screen through 3D augmented-reality animation. Choose an ingredient and sourcing details -- customized to the location, product and date -- are offered. For example: "This pickle was grown in the summer in Griffith, New South Wales. It was placed in brine within 12 hours of harvest."


The McNuggets? "To make great Chicken McNuggets we need great chicken morsels. So we got ours from Eagle Farm, Queensland." A sourcing message for a burger bun might be "Fresh buns are the building blocks of a good burger. That's why our Martin Place restaurant could have up to three deliveries a week. You'll find our bakers at the Fresh Start Bakery, not far away in Liverpool, New South Wales." The app can supply the name and photo of the farmer, rancher or fisherman by whom a product is supplied. The TrackMyMacca's app will track selected menu items in all Australian McDonald's restaurants from Jan. 16, 2013, through June 30, 2013.

The app was developed by DDB Group, which handles McDonald's advertising in the U.S. as well as Australia and selected other markets, suggesting it might someday be available here.

In a statement, Nick Pringle, creative director for DDB/Sydney, said, "It's always exciting to work on innovative projects for brands, and working on something that has the scale and reach of McDonald's makes it even better. When a project involves changing more than 150 million pieces of packaging, you know it's going to have an impact."

Added Mark Lollback, chief marketing officer for McDonald's Australia, "As a business we're incredibly proud that over 90% of our food and packaging needs are met right here in Australia. This innovative app from the DDB Group is another way for us to share this with our customers, putting them in the driving seat and allowing them to see for themselves where our food comes from and what happens on its way to their plate."

In its Facebook film explaining the app, McDonald's admits that there remains "some confusion about just how real our food is," despite its having spent many years and tried a variety of approaches to explaining its food sourcing and preparation. No amount of food-quality information will suffice for some fast-food haters, vegetarian activists and food elitists, but McDonald's has provided far more transparency on this issue for a longer time than has any other QSR chain. In Canada, its "Our Food. Your Questions" programs invites and answers consumer questions, even ones as skeptical as Matthew C.'s "If the food you use is 'the same as your local supermarket' then why did a man almost die from eating McDonald's for a month [Super Size Me]?"

In the UK, McDonald's "What goes into our burgers?" website page offers sourcing information. Additionally, it has aired 60-second TV spots from Leo Burnett London called "The A-Z of McDonald's" that detailed food quality. Similar quality/sourcing commercials, via Heye & Partners, have aired in Germany. Online product-quality films are offered in Switzerland and other markets.