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National Restaurant Association - Is sustainability on your menu?

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Is sustainability on your menu?

Food trends, energy and water conservation, food waste reduction and supply chain sourcing were a few of the topics discussed at our first-ever Sustainability Executive Study Group meeting.

The meeting, held Oct. 19, brought together restaurant sustainability experts, industry suppliers and manufacturers and non-governmental organizations. They talked about Americans' growing interest in sustainability, how that's changing consumer behavior, and what it means for restaurants. Here are a few takeaways:

Emerging trends

Arlin Wasserman, founder of Changing Tastes and one of the restaurant industry's sustainability pioneers, explained that as consumer tastes change, many diners are looking for more plant-based, non-processed foods. They also want smaller portions of higher-quality foods, especially fish, meat and poultry. "More consumers are interested ... in what they're putting into their bodies and how it makes them feel." They don't want toxins or pesticides, desire less industrialization and expect companies to pay more attention to social-justice issues, he said.

Energy and water conservation

Managing utility expenses efficiently can be an important way to manage costs in a challenging business environment, said the Foodservice Technology Center's Richard Young. His center estimates that commercial foodservice operators pay about $40 billion a year for energy. Even a 1 percent cutback would yield a collective savings to the industry of $400 million, he noted.

Food waste reduction

LeanPath’s Andrew Shakman, the U.S. Composting Council’s Frank Franciosi and Feeding America’s Carrie Calvert focused on source reduction, composting and food donation. Shakman said he believes consumers are changing the way they perceive food waste and that the foodservice industry, along with non-governmental agencies and public policy leaders, are working to increase that awareness. Franciosi said a lack of compost-manufacturing infrastructure could be due to the "ick factor” the public associates with composting. Calvert said implementing donation programs at restaurants would ensure that excess food goes toward feeding those in need. She added that new federal tax incentives, along with technology tools created by Feeding America, could help address some barriers restaurants face with donation programs..

Supply chain and sustainable sourcing

Pictured above from left, Kathleen Weaver of produce distributor PRO*ACT, the Foodservice Packaging Institute’s Lynn Dyer and Sodexo North America’s Richard Rosen talked about sustainable sourcing and packaging issues. Rosen said everyone attending the meeting probably has a different idea of what sustainability means -- and that it’s probably driven by customer or client demand. Dyer told the group that the belief that landfills are overflowing with foodservice packaging is false. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it only constitutes 2 percent.


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