At the National Restaurant Show in Chicago (May 18-21, 2013), one trend that stood out was the continued momentum of the restaurant industry towards sustainable and green practices. Those focusing on environmentally sound practices are tuned in to consumer wants and in a better position to gain their trust and loyalty. Mintel’s Dining Out: A 2013 Look Ahead—U.S.—January 2013 reveals that 42% of consumers say they seek a foodservice establishment that supports the environment by recycling or using biodegradable containers or serving dishes.

  • With respect to tableware, takeout containers and utensils, sustainability was mixed with elegance. A slew of sleekly designed tableware hit the show floor; for example, Your Green2Go offered a line of plates and bowls made from 100% natural, unbleached plant material. Green2Go items are recyclable and compostable, 100% biodegradable and contain no chemicals or plastics. The company offers are variety of options; for instance, disposable and biodegradable utensils are made from plant starch, are completely compostable, and have been certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
  • Greenwave also offered a line of environmentally friendly tableware, made out of sustainable natural fibers, such as sugarcane, grass and reed plasma. The containers are said to withstand both hot and cold food and, according to the company, are an ideal substitute for Styrofoam containers.

 

Restaurant operators are always trying to find ways to extend the freshness of foods. For example, foods that need to be kept in the refrigerator often are wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap.

  • Flexsil-lid USA hopes to reduce that waste by providing commercial kitchen pans, with lids, that can withstand temperatures of -50° to 428°F. The pans help operators who are interested in reducing waste and also helps extend certain ingredients to a 40-day shelf life, which also saves money. The company’s representatives said the pans offer operators potential annual savings of 50-100% of their foil and clear wrap costs.

 

Another way consumers are trying to be more environmentally conscious is by eating less meat. Sometimes this means that they participate in meatless campaigns, such as Meatless Mondays. In many cases, consumers may not be full-fledged vegetarians, but flexitarians, meaning they take an occasional “break” from meats for health or social reasons. Mintel’s report shows 37% of consumers say they seek an establishment that actively supports humane treatment of animals, cage-free/free-range practices, or sustainable farming.

  • Field Roast Grain Meat Company provides a vegetarian grain “meat” that is high in protein and nutrients. According to its website, the meat-free products are prepared by “combining the European charcuterie tradition of sausage-making with the Asian Mien Ching tradition of crafting vegetarian meats from grains.” The resulting products, such as roasts, sausages, meatloaf, deli slices and cutlets, have flavors and texture that closely replicate meat.
  • Products offered by Cheonghae Fishery (Korea) were interesting because they appeared to be shelf-stable, freshly packaged fish. However, upon closer inspection, the company’s representatives informed us the products we were looking at were actually made up of fish substitute, a surimi-like substance. As these types of “seafood” continue to gain acceptance, their role in reducing the environmental impact of overfishing and unsound fish-farming will be increasingly apparent.

 

Consumers also are interested in sustainability as it relates to the environment and to people. In fact, Mintel’s Attitudes Toward Corporate Social Responsibility—U.S.—September 2012, shows that 30% of consumers say that corporate ethical behavior impacts their purchasing decisions. Here are a few companies that would appeal to them.

  • Art of Tea was showcasing several varieties and aromatic blends of organically grown teas. The company has partnerships with farmers and distributors in countries such as Asia, India, Africa and the Middle East, so that it can provide a wide variety of quality teas, as well as help to ensure that employees are treated well through Transfair USA authorization, which ensures “fair working conditions, fair wages and a better life for tea workers from eleven countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.” The company is committed to recycling and using biodegradable materials for its teabags and its business operations use only sustainable energy sources, no fossil fuels.
  • Third St.’s line of USDA Organic-certified, artisan-brewed chai concentrates for foodservice are a line of teas produced in a facility that is 100% wind-powered. Furthermore, 100% of the company’s ingredients are composted for local farmers. The line of teas, which encompasses Authentic, Honey Vanilla, Decaffeinated, Green Tea and Spicy Ginger varieties in foodservice, carries Fair Trade Certified Tea, USDA Organic, Wind Powered and Kosher labeling; its retail products also feature non-GMO and Gluten-free labeling.
  • VerMints offers a USDA Organic-certified line of organic breath mints and pastilles, in flavors such as Ginger Mint, Café Express, Chai, Cinnamon, Peppermint and Wintergreen. The products are made with more than 95% U.S.-sourced homegrown ingredients. These products are gluten- and nut-free, vegan and kosher. Additionally, they carry the Non-GMO Project label; GMOs are an issue we believe will concern more consumers in the near future.

 

American consumers are exhibiting socially conscious behavior when deciding where they want to eat. In fact, 40% say they seek a foodservice establishment that actively supports charities and community organizations that they also support, according to Dining Out: A 2013 Look Ahead—U.S.—January 2013. This means operations that act in ways, make sourcing decisions, and make operational decisions that reflect these consumers’ values will gain their attention and “buy” into their way of doing business.

 

By Julia Gallo-Torres, category manager, U.S. foodservice, Mintel

 

 

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