Good Eating Company wants to empower diners to make sustainable choices

The foodservice management company recently published its 2024 impact report, which details its sustainability strategy and successes. Here’s a deep dive into the company’s latest sustainability initiatives.
plant-forward bowl
One way Good Eating Company has strived to be more sustainable is by offering more plant-forward fare. | Photo courtesy of Good Eating Company.

Good Eating Company, a foodservice management company owned by Sodexo, is, in some ways, subtle in its sustainability strategy. Especially when it comes to promoting plant-forward fare.

“The whole idea is to subtly introduce more plant-based options into existing menus,” said Claire Turner, director of sustainability at the company. “So really, when it's going well, we shouldn’t really be hearing any feedback.”

Good Eating Company recently published its 2024 impact report, in which it detailed its sustainability strategy, initiatives and the impact of those sustainable actions. The company focuses on four pillars when it comes to sustainable dining: reducing carbon, promoting sustainable diets, reducing waste and improving social impact.

And at the Good Eating Company, sustainable dining is a priority, said Turner.

“Sustainable dining programs are one of the themes of our existence,” she said.

Here’s a deep dive into how sustainability comes alive at the Good Eating Company as well as some major successes of the year.  

Empowering diners to make sustainable choices

Sea vegetable bowlGood Eating Company hopes to serve 40% plant-based entrees. | Photo courtesy of Good Eating Company. 

The plant-forward strategy at the Good Eating Company may be subtle in some ways, but in other ways it can be more direct. The idea behind the strategy, said Turner, is to empower diners to make more sustainable choices. Right now, the company has a goal of serving 40% plant-based entrees, but in the future, they may switch over to a more carbon-centric goal.

“We’re just making it easier for people to have those options and to have something that’s sustainable but also healthy. It goes a long way,” Turner said.

One way in which the more direct approach comes to life at the Good Eating Company is by offering oat milk as the default at its coffee outlets. The team started with this approach in 2022, and Turner notes it works best when the foodservice provider starts with a new operation. She has found this works best as diners are already expecting changes from the dining program and it gives the company the opportunity to train staff on proper communication.

The one challenge with this strategy is when staff are serving regular customers who order the same thing every day, perhaps not with oat milk. Good Eating Company has a majority of corporate clients, so staff are often seeing the same people every day and build relationships with them.

“Implementing it into a space where our baristas already have people's drink orders memorized, they may  know that someone had a preference for a different type of milk, and that communication can be a little bit tricky,” said Turner. “You want to introduce someone to the option of having oat milk, but you also already know that they have a preference for something else.”

In those cases, staff have been trained to mention the diners’ regular drink and ask them if they’ve considered trying it with oat milk.

“We see that work well when trying to implement the default in a cafe where we've already been in continuous operation with,” said Turner.

The team has gotten positive feedback from one such operation, Saint Mary’s College, whose student manager of the café noted the switch to oat milk as default has allowed her to learn more about the environmental impact of the operation as well as helped her educate others in that area.

Reducing dairy consumption

The idea to focus on reducing dairy consumption was a strategic choice by the sustainability team at the Good Eating Company, said Turner.

“Purchases of dairy and milk are some of the ways that, as a company, [we] contribute to environmental impacts," she said. "So, we saw a really big opportunity with reducing our dairy and milk consumption. And that was when our leadership team really sat down and we said, ‘Well, this was pretty easy to do. It's a great strategy that has no negative outcomes.”’

It wasn’t a rash decision; the team also did a cost analysis to see if they could implement this strategy without an upcharge.

And in some cases, the strategy proved to save money. For instance, one chef in a café the company has operated in the past created their own oat milk in house, which allowed them to cut costs on purchasing any sort of milk.

Informing diners and preserving freedom of choice

When it comes to promoting plant-based fare, the Good Eating Company has also found success with partnerships. One such partnership is the company’s work with Greener By Default, a consulting company that promotes making plant-based the default in foodservice operations. Greener By Default has helped the foodservice provider in developing training programs for staff regarding sustainable dining. Greener By Default’s approach is to help direct omnivores and those who don’t make sustainable dining choices to choose to eat more sustainably. And Turner said she believed that was the right approach for the company.

“We don’t ever want to dictate what people should eat, but we want to make it easier for people to eat more sustainably,” said Turner.

And last year, the two teamed up to develop a library of resources for front-line workers about why eating sustainably is important but also works as a how-to guide informing staff on tasks like setting up plant-based stations in the most appealing way. The Good Eating Company’s culinary team also had a hand in the library of resources, as they were tasked with creating plant-based recipes to include.

Turner said that it works as a "living document," as the team is always adding more resources and recipes.

Another subtle aspect of the company’s plant-based strategy is its decision to, when appropriate, choose plant-based condiments, sauces, milks, sides and desserts.

The hope behind this strategy is to take a holistic approach, instead of just focusing on entrees. The company looked at its procurement as a whole and saw an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions by purchasing less dairy and animal products.

This strategy also promotes inclusivity in dining, said Turner, who noted that 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, and many people choose to eat plant-based for environmental, religious, or other reasons.

Success at Saint Mary’s College

Garden at Saint Mary's

Saint Mary's sustainability garden. | Photo by Sofia Mastroianni.

One success of the year highlighted in the impact report, is the work the company has done at Saint Mary’s College of California to make the dining program more sustainable. The foodservice team was recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education program through its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. The sustainability program at Saint Mary’s earned a gold rating and was rated in the top ten for its sustainable dining and procurement programs.

Some of the features of the program that earned it such a high rating include the oat milk by default strategy, local sourcing and partnerships, and its work to source regenerative meat.

"Partnering with Good Eating Company has allowed Saint Mary’s to elevate and accelerate our campus sustainability efforts,” said to Ann Drevno, director of sustainability at Saint Mary's College of California. “Just two years into this partnership, Saint Mary's has been nationally recognized for its increased sustainably-sourced food, decreased food waste, and donation of more unused food than ever previously.”

Another success of the program that helped it earn recognition is the work Good Eating Company has done to revamp the college’s reusable container program. Such programs can be difficult to implement, and Saint Mary’s offered reusable containers prior to partnering with the Good Eating Company. But the college ran into various challenges with the program. For instance, it was difficult to track the containers, which meant many containers were lost or never returned. Turner noted that it was a huge cost to the dining program because they were losing lots of plates and reusable containers.

To address these issues, The Good Eating Company teamed up with Topanga, a reusable container company. And now, they have maintained a 96% return rate, and they have 400 active users on campus.

The team has even seen excitement around the program on campus.
“There's been really great participation, and the whole Res Life team on campus is really excited about it,” said Turner. “And we're strategizing about how we can do a bunch of programming during orientation. And to partner with the student sustainability club on campus.”

Promoting sea vegetables as a sustainable option

Fusion Burger Good Eating Company has been incorporating sea vegetables into the menu, for example, on the menu is this fusion kelp burger. | Photo courtesy of Good Eating Company. 

Sea vegetables have become a staple on menus across Good Eating Company’s sites. On the menu are creative options such as sea vegetable salad bowls and sea vegetable burgers. This initiative was sparked in 2023 when a client site in New York teamed up with The Food For Climate League (FCL). Through the partnership, the chefs developed a fusion burger, bolognese over cavatelli and a restorative sea vegetable salad bowl.

According to the impact report, over 500 diners at the site ordered these dishes, with the kelp burger as the most popular.

“Introducing sea vegetables to the team was interesting and fun,” said Bel Thompson, general manager at the New York site. “We are excited to offer more variety through the two most popular, best tasting sea vegetable options.”

The kelp burger and sea vegetable bowl are currently still on the menu at the site.

Turner said that the reasoning behind bringing sea vegetables first to that particular site was strategic. Part of the strategy was proximity, being in New York, the company could source local products.

“I was excited to bring it to one of our accounts in New York City,” she said. “That particular account focuses on healthy eating, which would mesh well with our initiative.”

Reducing waste through back-of-house tracking and upcycling

Good Eating Company uses the waste management program developed by Leanpath to track back-of-house waste. The program also provides a wealth of data, which allows operators to make informed decisions about their waste reduction practices.

Turner noted that since there is continuous improvement with the program, she often holds trainings with operators to make sure they understand how to use the tool. They also work to ensure that teams are actually using the program effectively to optimize operations and reduce food waste. She said the program also helps the team to raise awareness around waste and educate operators and other team members. The company also participates in food recovery programs.

Using the tool has been helpful in reducing waste, according to the impact report, which notes that many sites see as much as a 50% waste reduction in just one year.

Another feature of the company’s waste reduction strategy is incorporating upcycled recipes into the menu. The company has teamed up with food production company Matriark, which has the goal of upcycling vegetable surplus into healthy options.

“We’ve been partnering with Matriark and hosting calls intended to inspire chefs to delve into their own culinary creativity to tackle food waste,” said Alicia Janish-McCarron, culinary director for Good Eating Company, in the impact report.

This strategy also allows chefs to be creative, empowering them to create new recipes out of products that would typically be thrown away. Some examples of upcycled recipes that have made it to the menu, such as soup made from vegetable trims, turning carrot tops into pesto and making homemade oat or almond milk.

Turner said the idea of upcycling has garnered excitement and creativity for Good Eating Company chefs. For instance, she recalled a time when a chef excitedly showed her his creation: upcycled chili crisp oil made out of rendered beef tallow, leftover bone and leftover chili that he dehydrated. All of these ingredients would have otherwise gone to waste.

The company also makes efforts to rescue “ugly” vegetables and surplus produce from farms. The practice of upcycling is also very cost effective.

“By working with your produce vendors and local farms to find perfectly good food that is going to waste, you can start looking to curb food waste in your own community too,” said Janish-McCarron, in the impact report.



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