Old Macdonald had a farm

By | 8th June 2011

One of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe, founded in 1118, by St Bernard, sits in a marshy valley near the small town of Montbard in Burgundy. It was here in the medicine garden of Fontenay Abbey that I found myself on a gloriously sunny day at the end of last month. I must confess that despite the glorious setting and the outstanding architecture of the ancient church and monastic dormitory with its original wooden ceiling, my immediate thoughts were elsewhere. My return journey to the little hamlet where I was staying, with its 16th century bridge over the river Armancon alongside the Burgundy canal,  would take me via the village of Epoisses famous for its exquisite cheese. If I am honest I was looking forward to a little light collation and an accompanying glass of chilled Chablis to keep me going during the afternoon.

A few days of wonderfully warm and sunny weather and excellent food cooked by the splendid Delphine was the ideal way to start the build up to the summer months at home. If the weather is poor, I thought, at least I will have had some sun and if it is good, then this is a good way to start off.

You will understand, therefore, that I did not spend much time thinking about Macdonald’s or its products. However, as so often happens when things are going well, I was due for a rude awakening. If it all seems too good to be true, it usually is!

Last weekend one of the Sunday colour supplements carried an article on the subject of the 100 million Big Macs which Macdonald’s produces every year in Britain and Ireland. Apparently that is three every second! It does not bear thinking about but I became fascinated by the statistics.

Apart from the 100 million sesame buns, the company uses:

  • 8800 tonnes of beef
  • 7.6 million heads of lettuce
  • 2 million litres of Big Mac sauce
  • 196 million slices of dill pickle
  • 686 tonnes of onions
  • 1390 tonnes of cheese.

By this stage I was reeling! I could not begin to imagine a machine which I learned shreds lettuce at a rate of 1000 kilograms an hour, nor the fluorolaser optical-sorting machine which analyses the colour and the texture of the lettuce and identifies rogue chunks, grit and discolouration.

There are apparently 16,000 farms in the UK and Ireland which provide the requisite beef. One of them has a 100 strong herd of cattle which takes a tenth of a day to process at the meat factory or as the interviewer Matt Rudd put it, …”to put it another way, it takes 10…farms a day to keep Britain in Macdonald’s burgers.”

I could go on but I don’t want to put you all off whatever meal you are about to have when you read this. The point of the article was that in order to achieve the almost unbelievable numbers, Macdonald’s runs a very tight ship while delivering 100 million identical burgers to the hungry public.

The lettuce has to be shredded to no more than between 3.8cms and 10cms in length and must be precisely 6 mm thick.

In the restaurants they take thirty-five seconds to toast the bun, then add 28 grams of lettuce, one slice of cheese, two pieces of dill pickle, two squirts of sauce, seven grams of onion and in 42 seconds the job is done.

The process is honed down to a fine limit. As the article says, an extra 10 seconds of bun toasting results in 277,000 hours of electricity used by the toaster in a year and you can imagine what that costs!

After a short break which has resulted in several extra pounds appearing around the waistline of your correspondent, it may seem a little ponderous to make an analogy between the processes at Macdonald’s and the activity involved in the processing of electronic documents for disclosure (or any other purpose for which lawyers or their clients may wish to process their electronic data.)

However, there are similarities, believe me! My colleague James Moeskops has recently embarked on a marathon series of articles on the many ways in which money can be saved by lawyers and their clients if the right processes are followed in collecting, handling and processing the data. [Top 10 Ways in which lawyers are wasting their clients’ money 2nd June, 2011]

When it comes down to it, people in the electronic document management “space” have to be every bit as organised and process driven as Macdonald’s if they are not to fall foul of the millions of words, the terabytes of data (or even petabytes?) and the literally thousands of boxes of paper which pass through on a typical day.

I urge you all to read James’s articles as they appear. We would welcome any comments or feedback. In the absence of any comments it is back to the burgers as the memory of Gallic meals gradually fades.

Photo credit: Abbaye de Fontenay – Vierge a l’enfant by Jean-Christophe BENOIST