AI finds its place in sustainable foodservice

AI had a large presence, in unexpected ways, at the National Restaurant Association show, especially when it comes to sustainability. Plant-based seafood and sustainable cooking oil also made an appearance.
Leanpath's waste management program.
A few food waste management companies showcased their AI technology at the National Restaurant Assocation Show this year. | Photos by Reyna Estrada.

As consumers get more environmentally conscious and foodservice operations continue to consider the environmental impact of the food they serve, it’s no surprise that sustainability continues to be a  hot  trend in the foodservice industry. This year, at the National Restaurant Association Show, sustainability came alive in many ways. From oil filtration to creative plant-based fare, here are three sustainability trends your operation may want to consider.

1. Using AI to reduce food waste 

Technology is often a very effective tool used to solve for sustainability challenges. Technology that allows operators to collect data is particularly helpful as it allows them to understand the root of the problem and eventually come to a solution. Food waste management companies like Leanpath and Winnow are helping foodservice operations gather relevant data in an effort to reduce their food waste. Both companies are leveraging AI in their programs. Leanpath debuted its new AI program at the Restaurant Show. Though the company is not completely new to AI, as it has used it in its technology in the past to automate the way in which kitchens measure and track their food waste. But now the company is using even more AI to provide even more insights to chefs and managers. The new program includes a daily summary of food waste insights, as well as recommendations for operational changes based on the food that’s being wasted. The AI program also provides questions to ask culinary team members to promote reducing waste.

Winnow’s waste program, meanwhile, has a few different AI elements, including vision control which uses pictures to drive behavioral change and identify waste reduction areas. The built in cameras automatically capture waste images. In addition, the program provides full access to Winnow’s reporting suite. And Winnow provides kitchen coaching, monthly online skill sessions and success report for 100 days. Another element is vision AI which helps to recognize which food is being thrown away with less operational effort. The process is also automated, which doesn’t require any changes from staff while still capturing 100% of the waste stream. In addition, Winnow offers Vision AI+ which provides all the same features as Vision AI with additional benefits including more languages, customized menu and reporting and lifetime coaching sessions and access to online skills sessions.

2. Plant-based seafood is the next big thing

When plant-based analogues began to gain popularity, most of the options were akin to beef and eventually chicken. Now the options are much more diverse. The market has grown in recent years with some companies trying out other meat alternatives, like seafood. On the show floor this year, there were a variety of plant-based seafood options. Mind Blown gave out samples of plant-based crab cakes made mostly out of wheat protein. Also spotted at the show: plant-based California rolls, salmon rolls, and even caviar. Attendees could also try out plant-based tuna tartare or calamari. While most of the plant-based products were created by companies that focus on plant-forward fare, some non-plant-centric companies also had options. Man-made caviar company Caviarum offers an array of caviar, including one plant-based product. The plant-based seafood options did not end there. Roland Foods gave out a plant-based poke bowl, made of heart of palms, and of course there were a variety of non-seafood analogues available. There does seem to be a shift toward cleaner ingredients, with a variety of companies touting their simple recipes.

3. Making frying oil more sustainable

Other, less obvious sustainability initiatives were also creating buzz on the show floor, including frying oil filtration solutions. There were a handful of such companies scattered across the show floor. Frying oil filtration companies, like MagneSol and Oil Solutions Group, offer varying ways to extend the life of cooking oil, which in turn reduces oil consumption and carbon emissions. While extending the life of cooking oil also helps to cut costs, Magnesol told FoodService Director that its partners often note that the sustainable aspects of the product are also a major draw.




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