Herb Lotman dies at 80; created system for making McDonald’s burgers

Herb Lotman and Keystone Foods developed the first total distribution concept for McDonald's in the late-1960s and helped conceive the Chicken McNugget in the '80s.
(Tom Gralish / Associated Press)

Herb Lotman, a food industry entrepreneur who founded Keystone Foods and developed a mass-production system for making McDonald’s frozen hamburgers, has died. He was 80.

Lotman died Thursday at a suburban Philadelphia hospital from complications of heart failure, his family announced.

The Philadelphia native began his career in the food industry with his family’s wholesale beef business.


Keystone Foods developed the first total distribution concept for McDonald’s in the late-1960s with the use of cryogenics and helped conceive the Chicken McNugget in the 1980s. Over a 40-year period, Lotman turned Keystone into a multinational operation with $5 billion in sales, earning a rating among Forbes magazine’s list of America’s largest private companies in 2010.

Keystone’s mammoth contract with McDonald’s was bound by a handshake, Lotman told the Washington Post in 1984. “Nothing on paper,” he said in the interview, confirming that at that point 97% of Keystone’s business was connected with the fast-food chain.

Lotman was also a philanthropist, co-founding the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, a major women’s professional golf association tournament, which directly benefited Ronald McDonald House Charities. The event has raised more than $48 million for the children’s charities in the 29 years since its inauguration, making it the largest fundraiser in golf. Since 2010 it has been sponsored by the Wegmans supermarket chain.

“Whether it’s good times or bad times economically, we’ve got to help the kids who aren’t as fortunate as the other children,” Lotman told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2002. “When we tell people our story, they give. It’s been working pretty good.”

Lotman and his wife, Karen, also established the Macula Vision Research Foundation for people with retinal and macular diseases.

The food entrepreneur was a board member at the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he was chairman for 15 years. He also served on the boards of Getty Petroleum Corp. and First Union Corp.


Herbert Lotman was born Oct. 9, 1933, in Philadelphia. He sold Keystone to the Brazilian company Marfrig in 2010 and was inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame in 2012.

Besides his wife of 57 years, Lotman is survived by two children, Shelly Fisher and Jeff Lotman; several grandchildren and a sister.