[INTERVIEW] McDonald’s Korea to expand locally sourced ingredients to introduce more hit products

Bomi Yoon

McDonald's Korea CEO Kim Ki-won / Courtesy of McDonald's Korea

McDonald’s Korea CEO Kim Ki-won / Courtesy of McDonald’s Korea

Company CEO vows to upgrade services for seniors, people with disabilities

By Ko Dong-hwan

McDonald’s Korea will increase the number of its stores to over 500 by 2030 from the current 400 and expand local sourcing to introduce a wider range of new hit products, according to the company’s CEO.

In a recent interview with The Korea Times, CEO Kim Ki-won said that the Korean unit of the multinational fast food franchise will continue to focus on not only offering tasty burgers but also raising its public image by supporting local farms and agricultural communities.

“Our main goal this year is to get aggressive with opening new stores,” Kim said. “To leverage that goal, I care for building public trust in our brand, improving customer experiences and offering savory burgers.”

In 2023, the company opened eight new stores and renovated nine old ones. It also saw continuous business growth for 22 quarters in a row. When it opened a new drive-thru chain in Jeju Oedo last November, Kim promoted the restaurant by offering free burgers to children at local children’s center nearby. She said the company will keep donating “Happy Burger” to neighbors in need this year.

“It is one of our signature campaigns to offer hearty meals to those in local communities around our new chains who are in need,” Kim said.

The company last year pushed forward several policies that proved to be sustainable and effective for its business. She means to keep them this year to maintain the brand’s steadfast popularity in the country, which was built throughout 35 years of history here, and to eventually reach the market expansion goal.

One of the policies is Taste of Korea, the brand’s seasonal burgers that use local natural produce from local farms as a signature ingredient. The annual business, according to Kim, not only created hit burgers but also supported local farms by purchasing their produce. She called it a good example of “loconomy,” a compound of “local” and “economy.”

McDonald's Korea introduced Jindo Green Onion Cream Croquette Burger last October. The seasonal burger, created under the company's annual Taste of Korea project, used green onions from Jindo, South Jeolla Province. Courtesy of McDonald's Korea

McDonald’s Korea introduced Jindo Green Onion Cream Croquette Burger last October. The seasonal burger, created under the company’s annual Taste of Korea project, used green onions from Jindo, South Jeolla Province. Courtesy of McDonald’s Korea

Last year, Jindo Green Onion Cream Croquette Burger with green onions cultivated from Jindo, South Jeolla Province, hit the jackpot, selling over 2.8 million during its limited-offer period.

“We have to pick the produce carefully as each pick gets supplied to our restaurants that altogether see 400,000 visitors each day,” Kim said about the project started by the company in 2021. “And of course, its quality must be guaranteed, with its savor matching with the brand’s taste. A successful Taste of Korea project thus accomplishes both taste and mutual economic growth with local communities at the same time.”

The company has been buzzing about its range of charity activities for years, allowing itself to build up a positive public image. Inside and outside its stores, the company has been looking for local communities in need of donations for years. Kim said that she will run the business as usual this year.

The “Prosperity Burger” event is one example the company launches every year-end. From every order of a certain burger, 100 won ($0.07) goes to a charity pool. Last year, the company sold 1.7 million orders of two kinds of prosperity burgers (both with long buns, a beef patty and garlic sauce) last January alone and raised a total of 240 million won, a record amount since the campaign was launched in 2013.

The company sends part of the charity donation to the brand’s global program called Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC), which seeks to build lodgings near hospitals where family members of hospitalized patients can stay for free. Korea now has one Ronald McDonald House at Pusan National University Yangsan Hospital in Busan.

The company donated over 560 million won to the program in 2023 by raising money from sales of prosperity burgers and commemoration books that celebrated the company’s 35-year-long history in Korea and revenue from offline charity events.

Bae Gyu-sik, left, is a senior employee of McDonald's Korea working at the company's Pohang Nambu DT chain  in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province. Courtesy of McDonald's Korea

Bae Gyu-sik, left, is a senior employee of McDonald’s Korea working at the company’s Pohang Nambu DT chain in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province. Courtesy of McDonald’s Korea

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of our brand’s introduction of RMHC,” Kim said. “So one of our community-building campaigns this year is to provide support for opening the country’s second Ronald McDonald House. It will be in the capital region.”

Inside the restaurants, Kim is working to capture the hearts of not just visiting customers but also employees, another cornerstone for solidifying the brand’s public image and preparing it for local market expansion. One of the strategies is the company’s unique employee hiring process that sets no preference in education, age, gender, work experience, disability or nationality. And the window is always open, counting 18,000 workers nationwide so far.

Anyone selected via “open hiring” is also open for promotion to a chain’s manager position after four months. Later, that person can aim for a regular desk job at the company’s headquarters in Seoul.

“We have older employees who treat and give advice to their colleagues in their 20s as their grandchildren. We also have female workers in their 60s whose great cooking skills are irreplaceable when it comes to burger-making,” Kim said.

“People with various backgrounds wear our uniforms without discrimination. It’s our philosophy with its focal point on people. That’s why we would like to be called not a burger company but a company of people who make burgers.”

For patrons with difficulties ordering through digital kiosks inside restaurants, most often seniors and people with visual impairments, Kim introduced kiosks with an audio navigation system. It is a feature she introduced for the second time in the brand’s global franchise network.

“Resolving what may seem like a trivial inconvenience is important for improving our customers’ satisfaction and bespeaks our company’s dedication to corporate social responsibility,” Kim said. “Personally, the audio navigation feature meant a lot to me.”

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