After five plus years celebrating farmers, you’d think other fast casual restaurant chains would take a page out of Culver’s playbook by now. Instead the Wisconsin-based company continues to lead the pack, supporting the next generation in agriculture and showing appreciation to the hard-working farm families that put food on our tables every day.
“We want them to know their meal doesn’t start at the restaurant,” said Paul Pitas, Director of Public Relations and Communications, Culver Franchising System. “There is a bigger chain to it.”
Pitas, who has been with Culver’s for eight years, detailed how the company expanded from its humble roots to a nationwide agvocate at the 20th Annual Ag Media Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona Tuesday.
In fact, in 1984 when Craig and Lea Culver, along with Craig’s parents George and Ruth, opened their very first Culver’s in the family’s beloved hometown of Sauk City, Wisconsin, they never dreamed the establishment would blossom into a nationwide sensation.
“They wanted to just start a restaurant to support their family,” Pitas said. “There was no scheme to take over the planet.”
Thirty-four years later, the franchise can be found in 672 locations in 24 states.
While Culver’s has taken off across the U.S., their mission statement has remained the same, “Every guest that chooses Culver’s, leaves happy.” And it’s those small town values as well as fresh quality food served with smile that can still be found in every local Culver’s.
“Food matters to Culver’s,” Pitas said. “We are trying to do our part to make sure we have a steady supply for years to come.”
And Culver’s is doing it well through their Thank You Farmers campaign.
The campaign has highlighted family farms, large or small, conventional or organic, that have contributed to Culver’s success. They’ve thanked farmers through their iconic blue barns –- two in Wisconsin, one in Illinois, and another in Indiana. They’ve recognized farmers with their larger than life corn mazes. And during #FarmingFridays, Culver’s features ag influencers to help them spread the truth about agriculture. Alice in Dairyland, the Peterson Farm Brothers, and FarmHer are just a few of the contributors.
Culver’s is also highly dedicated to the next generation in ag. More than $1 million has been donated to National FFA and local FFA chapters.
It’s programs such as the FFA Essay Contest the restaurant has hosted the last four years that have sent local FFA chapters to the National FFA convention that may have not been able to go otherwise. This year’s contest generated more than 400 entries, with Culver’s awarding the top three $15,000.
During their annual Scoop of Thanks day, Culver’s proudly gives out a free single scoop of Fresh Frozen Custard for every $1 donation to FFA or other local agricultural organizations. That campaign alone has brought in more $150,000 over the last three years.
The franchise has also helped cloak the FFA members with their Blue Jacket program. In the last three years, 400 FFA members have received jackets.
“Ultimately those young people are going to be our future,” Pitas said. “We are constantly trying to communicate FFA is more than just a tractor or a crop.”
Pitas said the success of Culver’s Thank a Farmer campaign really relies though on the strong participation of their franchises. Out of their 672 restaurants, more than 400 have jumped on board with the campaign. From giving a percentage of sales back and selling wall decals to putting on a coloring contest and hosting a petting zoo or mini tractor race in in the parking lot, the individual operators have embraced Thank You Farmers.
The chain also stayed strong against activist persuasion. When a group recently asked Culver’s to only serve antibiotic-free beef, it generated a lot of attention on social media. Knowing all meat has to be antibiotic free by law before it hits the food supply chain, the restaurant turned to organizations such as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Pork Board for help in crafting a message that stayed true to agriculture and defended their farm friendly values.
And as far as ROI, Pitas says the campaign has paid off.
“We just know it is the right thing to do, Pitas said. “Since our Welcome to Delicious campaign that tied back to farmers and suppliers and shows where our food comes from, guests have been appreciative.”
And better yet, Pita said the campaign has only been met with positive reviews.
“Nobody has criticized us for this,” Pitas said.