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Automatic Rolls of Virginia makes buns for McDonald's.
Automatic Rolls of Virginia makes buns for McDonald's.

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Date published: 4/19/2003

Mary Washington College senior Mark Sturm ate his quarterpounder with cheese with gusto, spilling a dab of ketchup on his clothes.

Sturm doesn't give much thought to where the food comes from before it enters his mouth.

"It's not something that keeps me up at night," he said.

But the buns on his McDonald's burger may come from nearby Automatic Rolls of Virginia's bread plant in Massaponax, only no one there wants to talk about it.

Automatic Rolls, a branch of Northeast Foods Inc., confirms on its rhyming Web site that the company bakes bread for McDonald's.

"And when it comes to the McDonald's buns, last but not least/Are the busy folks giving their all at Northeast," the site states.

But repeated calls over several years to the local office, the corporate office in Maryland and to McDonald's were not returned.

The scent of baking bread wafts from the U.S. 17 plant, near Germanna Community College. Some trucks waiting in the bakery's parking lot have Egg McMuffins and other images on their sides.

A former local McDonald's employee confirmed they got their buns from the Automatic Rolls plant.

Vickie Brown, a receptionist at neighboring Openfirst Inc., said she enjoys the aroma on her way to work at the bulk mailing plant.

"It smells like home bread when you were a small child and mama made it," she said. "It really makes you hungry in the morning."

The company's goal is to "engage in the wholesale bakery business," said state records.

Its Web site calls itself a "baker's baker" where they make products for others to pass off as their own.

"Psst! It's a secret. No one else need know it./The product is yours and your label will show it," read one passage from the company's Web site.

MWC marketing professor Margaret Klayton Mi said this type of arrangement is common, but that doesn't necessarily explain Automatic Roll's silence.

"Maybe they're trying to protect the privacy of their client," Mi said.

Few people outside the fast-food industry know where the food actually comes from.

But if the buns originate locally, McDonald's fan Sturm thinks the local franchises should advertise that fact.

"I'd be glad they're patronizing local businesses," Sturm said. "They should actually trump it up."