Sustainability Among Top 10 Restaurant Trends in 2014

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There is a clear trend toward sustainability in the restaurant industry. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Culinary Forecast, the top 10 trends in 2014 are all related to either environmental issues or nutrition and health. In fact, the third most important trend is environmental sustainability itself.

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Consumers are now more aware than ever of where their food is sourced, waste generation and disposal, recycling, and energy consumption – and will use their power to support restaurants that share their values.

The trend toward environmental and social awareness is apparent, for example, in Quick Service Restaurants and Fast Casual dining establishments. Chipotle Mexican Grille plans to source 20 million pounds of local produce in 2014, up from 15 million pounds in 2013, as part of its local sourcing program started in 2008. McDonalds is also riding the green wave and introduced a recycling program in all U.S. stores. The chain is using the How2Recycle label from GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which provides information such as what material the packaging is made from, what components can be recycled, if it needs to be rinsed, and if it is recyclable in all communities.

Arby’s also recently announced its energy efficiency results, which saved the company the equivalent energy of taking 13,000 cars off the road for one year. Arby’s credited some of their success to the SiteSage energy management system, which was installed in all corporate locations across the United States.

What does this trend mean for you and your business? If you’re a restaurant owner, you know that food, labor and energy costs continue to rise and eat into the already small margins at many Fast Casual and Quick Service Restaurants. Companies are not embarking on sustainability programs solely because they are trying to be good corporate citizens, but they also recognize the cost savings and marketing opportunities associated with many efficiency initiatives.

As reported in Nation’s Restaurant News, a study by Technomic showed that 63% of American consumers said they would choose a restaurant they viewed as more sustainable, while 53% of restaurant operators said that “actionable social responsibility strategy” is critical to remaining competitive in the future. Moreover, consumers are willing to pay a 10% premium for sustainable products, according to QSR Magazine. However, savvy customers are becoming increasingly aware of “greenwashing” (making false environmental claims) and so it is important to provide proof that your business is “green” by participating in reputable 3rd party certification programs. The Green Restaurant Association (GRA) offers certification programs for restaurants and for suppliers.

Sustainability efforts can have a two-fold benefit for restaurants. These initiatives can both drive consumer demand and save money (through energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction). Consumers also demand certified results, and restaurants are responding, helping sustainability efforts drive business efficiency and financial success into the future.