Serving and Sourcing Fresh Food
The contributors of The Square Deal asked Dennis Hecker, Wendy’s® Senior Vice President of Quality Assurance, to blog about our standards in food safety and bring to light some of the challenges and opportunities we deal with every day in order to bring fresh food to our customers. Dennis worked right alongside Dave Thomas and developed many food safety procedures and animal welfare practices that went on to become industry standards. Fun fact, Dennis is one of the few Wendy’s Company employees honored in the Wendy’s Hall of Fame – a distinction typically awarded to our franchisees. He was inducted for creating a “Best in Class” Quality Assurance program making Wendy’s an industry leader in proactive food safety initiatives and high quality standards. He’s also been to 11 Rolling Stone concerts in his life. Thanks, Dennis, for sharing a bit of your world on our blog.
At Wendy’s, quality and food safety go hand-in-hand as our first priority when it comes to serving customers in our restaurants. Seems like an obvious priority for a restaurant company, right? Well, in our case, we have an added layer of complexity because we bring in FRESH ingredients to our restaurants – multiple times a week – to craft the items on our menu. And we’ve been doing this ever since we first opened our doors in 1969.
When Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s he set-out to create a great-tasting hamburger, one that he wasn’t getting at any other restaurant chain. As he created the business plan and menu, he knew his delicious hamburger would need to be made with fresh beef and only fresh beef. And you know what; they actually hand-pattied the beef in-restaurant back in the day!
Quality To The Fullest Extent
Dave wouldn’t make any compromises on quality, so fresh beef it was. He consulted with experts to help him figure out how to bring in fresh beef and fresh produce toppings, like tomatoes and lettuce, in a manner that was safe for his customers.
As Wendy’s expanded from one restaurant to our more than 5,500 restaurants today, our supply chain has had to grow and evolve right along with us in order to remain true to Dave’s vision. No shortcuts. No cutting corners (yes, that’s really why our burgers are square). And we knew the only way to continue to bring FRESH ingredients to our customers safely was to have the proper standards and protocols in place and partner with like-minded suppliers.
Until recently, we haven’t talked all that much publicly about our sourcing philosophy or our high standards because, to us, it’s just how we do things around here. However, given consumer interest in more transparency from retailers and restaurants, we’ve enjoyed telling our story.
Case in point…we just launched a new seasonal salad featuring our lettuce blend, blackberries and strawberries. Our team worked tirelessly just to source enough blackberries to guarantee supply so we could make the salad.
We recently launched the first video in the Profiles in Quality series which is a bit longer in form and focuses on the Church brothers, lettuce suppliers from California, and all they do to sustain and grow the lettuce that goes on top of our sandwiches and in our salads.
Has this fresh sourcing strategy been hard? Yes.
Wouldn’t it cost us less to source a frozen patty? Sure!
Would our salads and hamburgers taste the same? Not a chance.
So all that gives you some insight into WHY we’re committed to FRESH, now let me tell you a little bit about the HOW we’ve been able to do it. I’ll begin with this quote:
This is the mission statement of the Quality Assurance (QA) team at Wendy’s, a department that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of. Our mission has been around for quite a while and it’s grounded in making sure all customers who walk through the doors of our restaurants are served safe, consistent, high-quality food. Food that was raised and grown in a manner that compliments all of the Wendy’s values with the fundamental objective of providing wholesome food that our customers can trust.
It is the very foundation from which we build our quality menu and it requires a thoughtful, deliberate approach with an intense focus around what we call “Total Quality.”
To us “Total Quality” means the quality and safety of our products and processes is a shared responsibility across our company and the supply chain.
I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a long-career with Wendy’s that has spanned a few decades…I don’t have to tell you exactly how long, do I? But I can tell you, this Total Quality mentality has guided our decision making and informed the principles we have upheld since day one.
We know in order to achieve Total Quality we have to have a great team. And we do.
It’s kind of like when Science Club meets Future Farmers of America.
The QA department is staffed with experts in food science and folks who are passionate about animal agriculture as well as microbiologists and nutritionists. We have the know-how and the experience to back it up. Our team has an average tenure of 14 years with Wendy’s, so we’ve been able to build and grow our processes to evolve with the changing industry. And we’re committed to hiring new talent to keep things fresh (pun intended) as we’ve recruited the best and brightest from some of the nation’s top food and agricultural programs.
So to join our group you have to have the knowledge-base, a terrific attitude and the dedication to bring each and every Wendy’s customer a first-class experience.
Working On The Road
As often as our team is in the office, we know our real work resides in the field. We spend half the year on the road in order to conduct more than 1,000 audits throughout our supply chain. Audits of supplier facilities begin even before a company is certified to supply Wendy’s, and they continue long after. We visit the farms and ranches where our fresh produce (iceberg, romaine, spring mix, tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries, etc.) grows in order to assess quality and food safety, test for things like E. coli and Salmonella and prevent them from entering the food chain, and to ensure everyone in that operation understands and follows good agriculture practices.
For our produce suppliers, we visit and inspect their fields and processing or manufacturing facilities. For our meat suppliers, they also get an animal welfare audit to ensure they’re properly caring for and handling the animals. Liliana wrote an earlier blog all about these audits back in March. You can check it out here.
And we also visit our distribution centers, the 30 locations throughout North America where everything gets routed to for final inspection right before it’s delivered to your local Wendy’s.
And that’s just what we do from an internal stand point. We also go a step further by continually consulting with external experts and independent professional audit companies who benchmark Wendy’s programs. We use world class laboratories such as Silliker and Food Safety Net Services, and collaborate with academia from the likes of Kansas State University and The Ohio State University.
Why We’ll Never Stop Improving
Even when you consider all the exacting standards we have in place, we acknowledge we can always get better. Believe me when I say, we listen to you. Our in-house Customer Care team fields hundreds of calls a day ranging in topic from product inquires to marketing suggestions. Some comments are positive and some are not so positive. But we listen to all of them because customer feedback is critical to our success. And should ever an issue arise or turn into a trend, we evaluate the situation immediately and begin to run the proper protocols so we can keep our customers happy and safe.
I love this job because of the values our company upholds. When we say “Do the Right Thing,” we truly believe it. It is my hope that every experience of yours at Wendy’s is positive. We’re intensely focused on providing you and your family with a total quality experience so you can share the same pride for our brand as we so honestly do.