This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.
Sustainability is a balancing act. Reducing an environmental impact in one area can shift the burden elsewhere. For example, a cafeteria may want to replace disposable dishware with reusables. While this will cut down on waste, it may increase their water usage. Or a facility may want to increase operational efficiency. In doing so it will need to make sure any changes won’t negatively impact customer satisfaction. And a familiar one – the business owner considering paying more for sustainable products. This decision will need to weigh the increased cost against business benefits and profit margins.
Since 2020, the entire country has experienced the ramp up in demand for carryout, delivery, and grab-and-go food services. Because of this trend, the scales have never tipped more in favor of exploring the multiple benefits of sustainable supplies versus those made from petroleum. Following are five ways food service organizations can balance their bottom line by replacing plastic and foam takeout supplies with compostable, non-toxic, eco-friendly equivalents.
- Sustainable Products Are More Affordable Than Ever
Because all other supply prices have nearly doubled, sustainable supply products are more affordable than ever. The snowball effect of COVID demand and supply chain bottlenecks has manufacturers increasing prices for paper, foam, and plastic at unpredictable times. The eco-friendly supply sector, on the other hand, has maintained price stability and availability. Most food service operators base purchase decisions on price, quality, and availability. For the first time, sustainable supply checks all these boxes compared to mainstream alternatives.
- Calculating the Long-term Costs
Food service organizations are currently paying a few cents less per unit for a plastic or foam product than one made from paper or other sustainable materials that are renewable and compostable. When running a cost/benefit scenario, don’t forget to factor in the long-term cost savings to the environment. Even if thrown in the trash and sent to a landfill, compostable products will not add micro-plastics to the water supply or add toxins to the soil. This pollution ultimately costs humans in health care bills, farmers in land and soil regeneration efforts, and society as a whole in environmental cleanup efforts of an indescribable magnitude.
Environmental impact considerations are more important now because more than ever, consumers are choosing carryout food options. We expect this convenience preference to continue past the pandemic. It is every business owners’ responsibility to consider a bigger picture impact that involves the health of society, the planet, and ecosystems.
- Behavior Modification is Free
Lin Yutang, a Chinese inventor and philosopher, said, “The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of the non-essentials,” and that could not be more true when you are trying to save money on disposable supplies. Food service companies can achieve a substantial savings by implementing a few simple behavior modifications. For example, a great first step to reducing costs and environmental impact starts at the checkout line. Before throwing in a handful of napkins and utensils, food service employees can get into the practice of asking if the customer needs the items. Since most people are going back to their home or office to eat, these additions aren’t needed and would most likely be thrown away without even being used.
- The Value of the Customer Experience
Food service operators have scrambled for months to combat price volatility and supply shortages. If they don’t have takeout containers, paper goods, utensils, and bags, they can’t serve their customers. In desperate times, some have ditched their supply delivery source and scoured storefronts and websites. They got what they needed, but at the expense of an inconsistent customer experience.
It may not seem obvious at first, but the customer has an unspoken relationship with the takeout container—it is their first and last impression of the food item they select. Is this the same salad if it is in a different box than last week? If the quality of the container suffers in transport, causing leaks or freshness concerns, it damages the customer experience.
With price consistency and availability in the eco-friendly sector, food service operators can find a reliable supplier. And they can select a consistent style that becomes an extension of their brand.
- Buying Local is Cheaper
One of the reasons the sustainable supply sector has been insulated from supply issues is because they have short supply chains. Most products are made in the U.S. to cut down on their carbon footprint. Buying local means shipping costs are less, and, if you live within a 50-mile radius of the warehouse, delivery is most often free.
The time is now to take steps toward a more sustainable supply. Food service organizations will experience the immediate benefits of affordability, availability, and quality. They will continue to gain in the long-term with satisfied customers and a grateful planet.
Kris Piatek is President of Auburn Supply Group, a vendor of innovative, eco-friendly and compostable supplies for food and beverage organizations. He has more than 20 years of experience in the sustainability sector and serves as a consultant to help food service businesses implement environmentally friendly programs that are a best fit for their operations and facilities.