Going green: How sustainability appeals to wellness trend

From Kraft Foodservice.

In the ever-changing food world we live in, it’s hard to keep up. Just a few years ago, terms such as “farm-to-table,” “organic,” and “vegan” were primarily limited to hippie-dippie restaurants and health food store products, but they’re now ubiquitous. From quick-service restaurants and white-tablecloth spots and even to the corner grocery store, this trend of consumers seeking healthier and more mindful food options shows no signs of slowing down.

Savvy operators looking to meet those demands need to add another word to the growing list: sustainability.

“One of the things we look at for opportunities is where terms, concepts, and flavor descriptions have relatively low penetration in restaurant menus but high or growing awareness among consumers,” says Justin Massa, Founder/CEO of Chicago-based research firm Food Genius. “Sustainability is one of those [terms].”

But while sustainability isn’t an easy term to define—according to Merriam-Webster it means “involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources”—that expansive definition can work to an operator’s advantage, allowing for a variety of creative ways to incorporate it into their business.

For the most part, the mention of sustainability in foodservice operations has been limited to seafood, says Massa, who cites programs such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch in helping to educate consumers. But for the general consumer, sustainability isn’t just a term about fish; it has much broader implications. “The industry has a big opportunity to use the term more broadly and benefit from some of the health halo that surrounds it,” he says.

Here are some ways to incorporate sustainability into your operation:

Beyond the sea. While seafood has gotten most of the sustainability attention, operators need to expand their options. “I would be thinking about some of those big items on your menu, including center-of-plate proteins and featured vegetables,” says Massa.

…  And it’s not just food. Sustainability also applies to plenty of non-food items, such as Energy Star-rated equipment and packaging products made from recycled and reused materials. “Those are things that aren’t called out nearly as much as they could be,” says Massa. “In the short term, they are opportunities for differentiation. In the longer term, this is how you can drive sales.”

It’s often the little things. For example, if your operation provides take-out or delivery, highlight that utensils will be included only if requested. “This cuts down on waste and cuts costs for the back of house,” says Massa. “It’s a no-brainer and an easy way to be green.”

Don’t be shy. “Operators frequently do things to improve the quality of their offerings, but they don’t tell their customers about it,” says Massa, and that includes not mentioning it in their number one marketing tool: their menu. “If you’re going the extra mile, you can—and should—take credit for it.”

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