Do any of these slogans sound familiar? Quality is our recipe. Fresh, never frozen. Where’s the beef? Of course, we’re talking about Wendy’s. Ohioan Dave Thomas’ vision, launched back in 1969, has grown to be the second largest purveyor of burgers and the 4th largest restaurant chain in America. So, their actions have great influence over how we eat – and how we grow what we eat. Today, Wendy’s Chief Communications Officer, Liliana Esposito, joins us for a live taping of Town Hall Ohio.
Here are some of the highlights from the show:
Q. Do you see that Wendy’s has an obligation or at least a role in connecting producer and consumer?
A. Without question. And really Wendy’s was founded not as a restaurant but as a food company. We take very seriously the role that we play in feeding families and I know that you all do as well. And the difference between Wendy’s and many of you in this room is that we get to talk to those consumers every single day. And so they tell us what they think about the food that you produce. They tell us what they would like to see in that food and they tell us what they would like to see changed and so I think the role that we can play is as a communicator to the consumer about the value that you bring but also a communicator back to the production community about what the consumer is asking us for.
Q. So the Wendy’s brand. It’s important that you take the steps that protect it. Do you think that applies to agriculture as well? Do we need to make sure that the general public has this overall brand image of food producers in Ohio that’s favorable?
A. I do, I think it’s critical and we’ve seen a lot of research and maybe you’ve seen it here as well. The image of the farmer and particularly the American farmer is very, very positive and the image of for instance veterinarians that may care for your animals if you’re a livestock producer are very, very positive. The challenge comes in that because so few consumers are connected to the farm any more. I mean there’s that, you know, single digit percentages of the American public that has any connection to agriculture. They don’t necessarily know that what you do is farming and it may not match their perception of what they think farming is which typically is a much smaller scale kind of old fashioned idea of how they think it should be. And so you have to play a role in educating them about why you do the things that you do and how you do it to improve safety to improve quality. Why in some cases a more modern approach is better and why in other cases it might not be. And so that really is a critical role. And you are the only ones that can do it. You’re the only ones that can bring your story to the public. And it’s hard because you’re busy. You are up at the crack of dawn you are working your farms every single day and you’re taking care of your families and you’re taking care of your communities. And so to add extra time to educate a consumer that you don’t necessarily see every day is hard. But really I think it’s the only way that you can increase awareness and understanding of what you do for a living.
Q. Give me a couple two or three takeaways that you would like the farmers in this room and the large number of consumers listening to Town Hall Ohio, what are a couple important things about Wendy’s, and the food chain and the farmers that you work with?
A. Well first I would just like to leave you with thank you. So thank you for what you do. We did a little bit of a survey before I came in. Today we’re somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million in Ohio agriculture that we’re purchasing every year and that’s probably a pretty conservative estimate. Everything from cooking oils to bacon to eggs to paper products we’re buying a lot from all of you. And you are helping us serve our consumer and that’s something that we just can’t do without you. The second thing is to ask for your partnership in reaching out to us if we can be better. And also sharing with us the idea that we share this consumer. The consumer is ours together. We can’t serve them alone and neither can you. And then I think in partnership we can we can do a lot of great things for Ohio agriculture.