Burger King enlists Michel Gondry, the yodeling kid and lemongrass in eco-friendly push to reduce cow farts
“When cows fart and burp and splatter, well it ain’t no laughing matter. They’re releasing methane every time they do.”
Those are the opening lines of a two-minute music video explaining Burger King’s push to reduce methane emissions emitted by the cattle used in its burgers by feeding some lemongrass to the cows.
The kid-filled video, which includes a catchy “reducing methane” refrain, is whimsical and colorful. The song tells an environmental story about how changing what cows eat can reduce greenhouse gases. As yodeling sensation Mason Ramsey sings in the video, “the scientists have proven that it works.” Directed by Michel Gondry, “Cows Menu” has a feel unlike any other Burger King work that’s airing.
“This project from the very beginning was about proving the case,” says Fernando Machado, global chief marketing officer at Burger King’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International.
We Believers, the agency that previously introduced edible six-pack rings to replace the plastic that holds cans together, approached Burger King with the idea.
“We said ‘what if we create a menu for cows that helps us to reduce methane emissions?’” says Gustavo Lauria, co-founder and chief creative officer at We Believers.
Scientists, in collaboration with the agency and Burger King, tested the addition of different herbs to cows’ diets, including chamomile and lemongrass. Adding 100 grams of lemongrass leaves to a cattle’s daily feed in the last four months of its life reduced its daily methane emissions by up to 33 percent.
Some scientists were already experimenting with diets for cows but many of the ideas, such as feeding them a specific type of seaweed found in Australia, weren’t scalable, Lauria recalls. Lemongrass, on the other hand, can be grown at scale if the idea catches on.
Once the results were in, We Believers and Burger King wanted to have an entertaining way to explain the project. “What could be better than a cowboy kid singing about a better world?” says Lauria.
Gondry, the director of movies including “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” who has shot ads for the likes of Chobani and FedEx, was brought on to direct. “When you want to do something that is in that kind of tone, and that kind of look and feel, Michel is the perfect option,” Lauria said of the French director.
The video shoot took place in Los Angeles in February, before the pandemic led to shutdowns of large gatherings. (Gondry wore a mask to set.) The debut was not delayed much by the pandemic, says Machado, who says Burger King always wanted to release the project around the middle of 2020.
Burger King began selling a plant-based Impossible Whopper in the U.S. in 2019, for those seeking an alternative to beef. Now, it’s offering meat-eaters in select markets a way to feel a bit better about the environmental footprint of products they buy from the Home of the Whopper. It seems adding some lemongrass to the cattle’s feed doesn’t alter the taste. Machado says he can’t taste a difference.
“I really think that we need to be providing sustainable solutions to people without having the people carrying the burden in terms of cost, in terms of taste,” says Machado.
Burger King is making the recipe open-sourced, hoping that others come on board, even its competitors. Wording on the screen toward the end of the video reads “Since we are part of the problem, we are working to be part of the solution.”
For now, Burger King is only selling its Reduced Methane Emissions Beef Whoppers while supplies last in a total of five restaurants across five markets: Austin, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Portland. Machado hopes more suppliers replicate the recipe, leading to more of the beef being available both at Burger King and elsewhere. “Working to expand the program, that is the real ambition,” says Machado.
Burger King says it worked on the project with Octavio Castelán, professor at the Autonomous University at the State of Mexico, and Ermias Kebreab, professor at the University of California, Davis. In a video, Dr. Temple Grandin, a well-known animal welfare expert, says the lemongrass is fairly simple and “something that is doable.”
“Cows Menu” is part of a broader Restaurant Brands for Good initiative. Earlier this month, for example, Meat+Poultry reported that Burger King, along with Cargill and World Wildlife Fund, plans to reseed and replant 8,000 acres of “marginal cropland” in Montana and South Dakota, which will become grasslands for beef cattle grazing. Cargill, according to the report, says that if successful, that program “is projected to save the carbon equivalent of driving nearly 70 million miles in an average passenger vehicle.”
Sustainability was built into the video shoot. Materials used for the set included wood, metal and cotton batting. Even the utensils used by craft services were made from avocado pits, according to a third video shared by Burger King.