For years leading up to the pandemic, an ever-growing number of consumers had been making concerted efforts to live and shop more sustainably. In foodservice and food manufacturing, we were seeing a trend toward sustainable practices reflected in the heightened demand for plant-based foods, recyclable materials that reduce waste and more sustainably sourced food and beverage ingredients among others.
When the pandemic hit, the focus overwhelmingly shifted toward off-premise dining in just about every foodservice channel. It was how many operations stayed above water, and it continues to be an important if not central component of most successful foodservice operations today. As the initial shock of COVID declines, however, more consumers are aiming focus at their environmental footprints. Consumers are collectively regaining the capacity to think outside of the immediate concerns of the pandemic, and sustainability is re-emerging as one of the highest priorities. How foodservice operators react right now can have an impact on long-term success.
What consumers are saying
As the pandemic moves from focus, consumer anxiety over environmental harm is accelerating. As a result, they are increasingly using their purchasing power to prioritize shops, restaurants and brands that are active and vocal about sustainability.
The trend is especially pronounced among younger generations—nearly 60% of millennials and Gen Z cite environmental friendliness as a top factor in making product purchase decisions.1 And they expect and respect honesty from the places and brands they patronize.
In fact, we’re seeing a growing number of millennials drawn toward “solid, grounded views of prospects and possibilities2” and more of Gen Z still. In other words, there’s a generational trend toward open and authentic expression, and a stronger demand for change than ever.
How operators are responding
Just like consumers, COVID made most foodservice operators dramatically shift focus from long-term harm reduction to immediate harm reduction. Now as consumer attitudes are making a turn, operators are making conscious moves toward sustainable practices.
With younger generations at the frontlines of the push for more environmentally friendly products and practices, it makes sense that foodservice operations at colleges and universities are getting ahead of the shift. In an interview with Technomic Monalisa Prasad, National Director of Sustainability at Chartwells Higher Education said she expects the foodservice industry to experience “a heightened demand for transparent sourcing and clean, plant-rich diets.7”
What you can do
1. Start with coffee Coffee is one of the biggest areas of focus for sustainably minded consumers. It can be an indicator of how your operation interacts with the world. While more coffee brands make sustainable claims than they did ten years ago, less than ½ of the coffee launched today is makes any sustainable claim.9 Serving the right branded coffee can indicate you value environmental practices, farmer support and transparency.
2. Expand menu-wide Are there products already on your shelves that have relevant sustainable claims? Organic sugar? Local blueberries? Natural peanut butter made with sustainable palm oil? Promoting your menu-wide sustainability initiatives reinforces your commitment to a better future. And remember, your guests are more than likely to care about that kind of thing.
3. Recycle and compost If you aren’t already collecting recycling alongside other waste (and communicating the effort to your guests) it’s a great time to start. In addition to ensuring well-maintained and well-labeled recycling bins, consider adding a compost bin. It can seem like a substantial venture to launch a composting program, but collecting compostable materials is as simple as collecting trash—and it feels much better. Educating guests about what’s compostable (coffee grounds make great compost) and, if possible, offering compostable/biodegradable beverage stirrers, straws or to-go packaging and utensils can demonstrate your serious efforts to curb waste. If you can partner with local farmers and provide them with fresh compost, you could potentially feature some of their local produce on your menu.
What does sustainability mean?
There are a number of living definitions of “sustainability” and by all indications, there will continue to be. To 1850®, sustainability means meeting the world’s growing consumption of coffee while protecting our natural resources because we know doing what’s right for the planet matters. To your guests, to you and to ourselves.
You can show guests you care about the same things they do. Learn more: https://www.smuckerawayfromhome.com/brands/1850.
1 Technomic, Sustainability & Social Responsibility in Foodservice, 2019 Multi Study
2 Kantar U.S. MONITOR 2020
3 Kantar, Download on Food and Culture, November 2020
4 Technomic Consumer Food Trends, 2021
5 Boston Consulting Group, 2021
6 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Reporting
7 Technomic Sustainability Operator Study, November, 2020.
8 Technomic Ignite, Q1 2020
9 Mintel GNPD: 2021