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Meet the adventure-seeking foodie who revolutionized our coffee

January 1, 2019

Danielle Paris

Sail miles off the Alaskan coast working on commercial fishing boats. Witness the majesty of bottlenose dolphins and work to understand why they are stranding on beaches. Explore Southeast Asia, enjoying Thai street food and a life-changing Omakase dinner in Kyoto, Japan. Travel to the mountains of Central and South America, meeting coffee farmers.

This is not a travel channel special.

These are all experiences Danielle Paris, a member of our Culinary Innovation and Commercialization team, has already checked off her bucket list. Lucky for us, she’s harnessing her inspiring adventures and infusing them into our menu in ways that delight our customers.

“I never want to stop learning,” she said. “After 15 years of working for McDonald’s, I feel so proud to be working for a company that encourages creativity and challenges the status quo.”

Danielle is responsible for innovating, designing and commercializing menu items through consumer-guided research and field testing – including her legendary work elevating McDonald’s coffee through the creation of McCafé Premium Roast. (Disclaimer: Danielle’s roster of past and current projects is way too long for us to list here – but just to let your imagination run wild.)

And her path to McCafé, with all its twists and turns, is what makes her such a valuable leader and innovative culinary team member at McDonald’s.

The winding path to McCafé

Danielle grew up in a military family and lived abroad for much of her childhood, which she credits for her love of adventure. Her parents encouraged her and her sister to be curious and to explore different cultures. That sense of curiosity persists today, as she and her husband Bruce are avid global travelers and adventurous eaters.

But it was Danielle’s love of the sea that continued to grow most throughout her life. “I’ve always had an appreciation for the beauty of the ocean and the abundance of life below its surface. I’m also fascinated by how we feed our planet with food from the sea,” she explained. So, she followed that passion and went to college at Texas A&M, graduating with a degree in Marine Science. She also earned an MBA in International Business.

Danielle on boat in her fisherman’s wear

After graduating, she wanted to learn more about commercial fishing, so she worked as a marine biologist monitoring fishing quota activity on commercial Japanese and American fishing vessels. She worked on deck and lived on trawlers in Alaska’s Bering Sea for up to three months per assignment.

“It was definitely scary at times! You’re looking at these 10-20 foot waves and thinking ‘Are we ok?!’”

But life on the Bering Sea was also breathtakingly beautiful, and working at sea was a rewarding professional experience. It was on those fishing boats that Danielle learned the importance of good communication. “It was an intense and dangerous environment which required diplomacy, negotiation and clear communication to get my job done. The biggest reward I walked away with was respect for the fishermen and the dangerous job they do at sea.”

Alaska Japanese Trawler

After spending a few years miles out at sea for months at a time, Danielle was ready for a new challenge. She was fascinated with commercial fishing and the process of developing seafood products, so she took a job at Long John Silver’s, one of the biggest commercial clients of the vessels she had been working on. Fun fact: McDonald’s was the largest client – a detail that Danielle noted and kept in the back of her mind for years to come.

For the next eight years, Danielle lived and worked in Thailand creating the supplier network in the Far East and Southeast Asia for Long John Silver’s. “I loved living in Bangkok, and the food was amazing,” she said. (Most notably: the Thai food from night markets in Bangkok and the best meal of her life, an Omakase dinner she experienced on a trip to Kyoto.)

“One of many courses served at the Omakase dinner in Kyoto, Japan.”

Working as an expatriate in Asia was transformational as well. She was often the only American on a cross-cultural team tackling complex business challenges – such as sourcing shrimp in Vietnam – so she drew on the communications skills she gleaned out on the fishing vessels. “Given the cultural nuances and language barrier, it was important to be humble and listen well – the ultimate training for cross-functional teamwork,” Danielle said.

Little did Danielle know, that training would soon come in handy.

She’d been admiring McDonald’s from a distance. “I was so impressed by the quality and consistency in McDonald’s restaurants I visited throughout Asia Pacific,” Danielle remembered. “I visited every one I came across and the food was always delicious. I knew that was special.”

She soon landed her dream job at McDonald’s, initially working on the Global Menu Management Team where she worked in the Centers of Excellence in South America, Asia Pacific and Europe, testing new menu items and helping markets develop their menus. It was there she realized how committed McDonald’s was to the customer and meeting their needs around the world.

“It’s always about delighting the customer. Talking directly with them and listening for key insigns was critical for the work we were doing”

She loved the complex puzzle of listening to a customer’s desires and translating that feedback into the creation of a delicious menu item.

Eventually, Danielle was presented with the opportunity to work on the US Menu Management Team, where her first major project was to make our coffee outstanding.

Perfecting the simple cup of coffee

Our coffee is really, really good. And it is an integral part of many of our guests’ days. But we didn’t always have the sterling reputation we do today when it comes to our coffee. That’s where Danielle came in, and she dove head first into coffee.

“First we had to understand the sensory universe of coffee,” she explained. “We formed a large cross-functional team with the goal of revamping the coffee program. This team included our coffee suppliers, industry subject matter experts, owner/operators, Operations, Supply Chain Management, Insights, Marketing and beyond. We conducted a ton of research in order to develop a product which would attract new users, without alienating our current loyal customers.”

From the research they conducted, they were able to pinpoint the exact aroma, body and flavor that our customers were looking for in their everyday cup of coffee. Then it was Danielle’s task to identify the coffees they needed to achieve that taste.

Danielle looking at coffee beans

Travelling the world to find our blend

To pull this off, Danielle did what she was quite familiar with by then: travelling abroad, learning about local culture and translating that into incredible menu items. She traveled with our McDonald’s coffee suppliers to various coffee origins, such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Indonesia, where she met the farmers who were growing coffee and harvesting the beans.

“I love coffee. The aroma, the flavor, everything about it. And I was so fortunate to learn about coffee straight from the source,” Danielle said. Much like her time on the fishing vessels off the coast of Alaska, Danielle found herself in awe of what nature provides.

“The farmers we engaged with …It brings people together in wonderful ways”

“We cupped so much coffee. I mean so much,” Danielle laughed. Ultimately, a beautifully balanced blend of coffees was selected to become McDonald’s Premium Roast Coffee – a blend that provided the perfect taste our customers were looking for. This is Danielle’s specialty – listening to what customers want and drawing on background knowledge and experiences to translate those desires into a delicious menu item.

Now, the challenge was to figure out how to make sure our coffee tasted that way every time, in every one of our restaurants around the world.

It’s all about consistency

“When brewed according to our exacting procedures, is consistently flavorful and delicious,” Danielle explained. Oftentimes “consistent” can be misinterpreted as mediocre. Not at McDonald’s.

“We have a signature coffee flavor profile, throw weight, brewing temperature, brew time, hold time, and we specifically selected the cream that blends perfectly with our McCafé Coffee,” Danielle said. All of that combined brings you a delicious cup of coffee – every single time. It’s that consistency that sets us apart from other competitors. 

Never stop learning

Thanks in a large part to Danielle’s work, we regained credibility in coffee. But Danielle wasn’t ready to stop there. Danielle recently studied for and achieved Q Arabica Grader status. It’s kind of like being a sommelier in the wine world, or a CFA in finance. In the coffee world, it’s as qualified as you can get.

“I was already a fish geek, and now I’m a coffee geek,” she laughed.

“I was already a fish geek, and now I’m a coffee geek”

It’s safe to say after 15 years innovating in coffee, Danielle Paris has her 10,000 hours.

She’s too modest to say herself, but we’ll put the words in her mouth, she’s a coffee expert. And when we asked her expert opinion about our coffee, this world-travelling, adventure-seeking, food-loving team player doesn’t mince words.

This is a series highlighting our people and the inspiration behind their amazing work at McDonald’s. Within the Arches: These are our stories.

“It’s a privilege to wear my chef’s coat for McDonald’s and I’m so proud to be on the team that created this cup of coffee.”