Sustainability on the rise in restaurants

by Monica Watrous
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ROCKVILLE, Md. — A growing number of restaurant chains are adopting sustainability practices as concerns over animal welfare and environmental impact become increasingly important to consumers, particularly women and higher earners, according to a new report from Packaged Facts.

Leading the trend are small and independent operators, but fast-casual players are beginning to push green into the mainstream. Chipotle Mexican Grill, for example, has built into its brand a message of sustainable sourcing and respectful treatment of animals, people and the planet. Similarly, Panera Bread recently published a food policy detailing its commitments to menu transparency and a positive impact on the food system.

And McDonald’s this year said it would lead development of global principles and criteria to support sustainable production of beef, with plans to develop goals and begin purchasing verified sustainable beef by 2016. By 2020, the company plans to have 100 percent of its coffee, palm oil and fish verified as supporting sustainable production, and 100 percent of its fiber-based packaging from certified or recycled sources.

“For foodservice players, adopting sustainability and food sourcing reflects adopting practices that reduce the negative environmental impact of providing the food, which in turn is influencing menu trends,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. “There’s also a propensity to associate green qualities with animal welfare and healthfulness, which are factors that seem especially true in food service.”

 
Particularly receptive to sustainable practices in restaurants are 25- to 34-year-olds and families, according to survey data from Packaged Facts. Food service operators may best reach these digitally driven customers with social media and restaurant technology to update and inform them about environmental initiatives, Packaged Facts said.

“Educating consumers is a key element of any cause-related marketing effort, and green and sustainable achievements are no exception,” Sprinkle said.

In addition to sustainability, healthful eating and culturally influenced cuisine innovation also are leading industry trends, according to the report.

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