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Social responsibility of business -- Case studies, Sustainable development


Jack Graves is considering buying chicken. More precisely, Jack is considering where to buy chicken. He needs to make a recommendation to the purchasing team soon, and the decision is complicated. Jack is a long-time employee of the Burgerville restaurant chain, a quick-serve restaurant chain in the Northwest USA. Burgerville prides itself in being true to its long-held values while maintaining profitability and growth. Graves’ primary job at Burgerville is to assure that the company’s values are embedded in all its actions, including its relationships to its supply chain. His current concern is the dilemma of which values to promote. Burgerville sells chicken, lots of chicken. So the purchase of chicken has significant impacts on the social and environmental impacts of Burgerville’s supply chain. Should Burgerville buy local, with the inherent social and environmental benefits, while paying attention to concerns about labor issues, animal treatment, and non-organic stewardship? Or should it find a supplier with some assurance that these potential problems are eliminated, regardless of location? Jack knows that Burgerville needs to address this issue soon, as the supply of chicken that is produced to Burgerville’s high standards is small and there are sure to be competitors seeking the same products. He will have to weigh the company’s values and make a recommendation soon.

As the Chief Cultural Officer of The Holland Inc., Burgerville’s parent company, Jack Graves is constantly aware of the need to align the Burgerville culture and identity throughout all units of the business, including vendor partners. The chain’s slogan: "Fresh. Local. Sustainable." proclaims its commitment to offering foods differently than other quick serve chains, with specific attention to where food is being sourced. Burgerville aims to deliver on this promise as often as possible, and has had success in the past.

Over the past decade, Burgerville has made a concerted effort to ensure its purchasing supports it values. As of 2009, over 70% of Burgerville’s total spending on food products was from local suppliers, up from less than 60% in 2008. With chicken, though, Graves was faced with some difficult questions and hard choices: can Burgerville find a local supplier who can provide a sufficient quantity and quality of breaded and plain chicken breasts and chicken strips at a cost comparable to the existing national brand supplier? Is buying local the most important decision to make for Burgerville and its image? Is the issue more than simply reducing the distance the food travels from origin to the customer? Are Burgerville customers willing to pay a premium for locally sourced chicken? It makes sense to purchase from local farmers who may then become loyal customers, but what if distant farms operate more sustainably than the local farms? Is there a sustainable chicken farm that could handle Burgerville’s demand? These questions weigh on Graves’s mind as he struggles to balance the chain’s profitability with the company’s values.


This case study was awarded 2nd place in the 2011 OIKOS Global Case Writing Competition - Corporate Sustainability.

Copyright © 2010 by the Author(s). This case was prepared by Darrell Brown, Phil Berko, Patrick Dedrick, Brie Hilliard and Joshua Pfleeger as a basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate the effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.

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