Going Beyond the Call

By Lynn Petrak

The Bama Cos., Inc. builds on its four-decades-long supplier relationship with McDonald’s Corp.

Passing through the Golden Arches to become a supplier to McDonald’s is no easy task, as many would-be providers can attest.
The Bama Cos., Inc., which emerged in the 1960s to become part of the family of suppliers for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp., is a testament to how tenacity gets you in the door and loyalty, quality-mindedness and a true vision keep you inside once you’re there.
Like many of McDonald’s suppliers, Bama has a legacy that is accompanied by some lore relating to McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, and the philosophy on which he build his business.
“My father made a direct call on Ray Kroc at his Des Plaines [Ill.] restaurant in 1962,” says Paula Marshall, chief executive officer and third generation leader of the Tulsa, Okla.-based Bama. “Quality was one of the main reasons he selected my dad to work with the company. His hallmark was going to be quality food for a great value — and he wanted the best of everything.”
Bama did not get to the point where it is today by being unwilling to change with the times however. Founded by Marshall’s grandmother in 1927, Bama started as a wholesale pie producer, but gradually changed course to change with the times. In fact, the wholesale baking company developed McDonald’s signature “hot apple pie” by responding to shifting consumer trends.
 “My father was interested in getting into frozen food and said he wanted something people could eat in the car, a portable product that was fast, simple and great tasting,” Marshall recalls.
Adjusting to the market is something that Bama has done throughout its history.
“Today, the apple pie in the U.S. is predominantly baked instead of fried,” reports Marshall, noting that adjusting the recipe was an involved process dating back to the early 1990s. “The early version had a cinnamon sugar center with natural juices. Today’s apple pie is a more premium, quality product that continues to meet customer demands. ”
Marshall says Bama’s apple pie is a popular dessert item on McDonald’s dollar menu. “Operators love it,” she says, “because it gives their customers variety on the menu.”
 To keep up with the times, the R&D team at Bama has been in the kitchen scores of times with McDonald’s Menu Management and culinary development groups, showing all sorts of new innovative products along with ways to potentially enhance existing menu items.  
“We are constantly working on flavors,” Marshall notes. “We have cherry pies — year round, pumpkin pies in the fall, and we have a Christmas pie; all are optional items [for owner/operators] to choose from. It’s a market by market decision.”
In addition to supplying the hot apple pie dessert to McDonald’s restaurants, Bama has also strengthened its role in the McDonald’s supply chain by providing ready-to-bake biscuits to a number of restaurants across the country.
Marshall reiterates that quality and consistency are the mantra for acceptance into the McDonald’s system.
“Consistent quality is a top priority at McDonald’s. Like many suppliers that do business with McDonald’s, we have a consistency edge because our products are made with fresh ingredients — like buttermilk,” she says.
McDonald’s and Bama continue to test new flavor profiles and formats. “We work on pie flavors all the time and are always looking at new ideas to build upon our existing portfolio that are sold around the world!” Marshall says. SF&WB