According to a new report by Unilever Food Solutions, 80 percent of U.S. consumers who dine out are uneasy about the amount of food waste created by their favorite restaurants.
“That's a profound figure and it shows the depth of how consumers are aware of sustainable living,” says Kara Phillips, channel marketing manager for Unilever Food Solutions, which conducted the “Sustainable Kitchens: Reducing Food Waste” study. “They're cutting back on food waste in their own kitchens, and now they're also looking at restaurant kitchens to see what businesses share their values.”
Unilever, which also found that 60 percent of customers want restaurants to be more open about their sustainability practices, introduced its “United Against Waste” program to address the matter. The program looks at stock management, menu flexibility, portion sizes, composting, and recycling to help operators tackle the waste problem.
Boloco, a burrito chain in New England, is already responding to consumer opinions on waste.
“We have compostable, corn-based diningware, but we're still working with vendors on finding the perfect compostable bowl,” says Cait Simmons, marketing director for Boloco. “These products cost more, but they're what our customers expect of us.”
Meanwhile, in the kitchen and exit of each Boloco unit, waste is collected in three receptacles for recycling, composting, and trash. The company contracts with a vendor that hauls away each store's compostable and recycling waste, leaving very little for the landfills.
Michael Oshman, CEO and founder of the Green Restaurant Association, says the extra costs associated with more sustainable waste management are “minimal.”
“Whether it's for trash pickup or recycling or composting, you're still paying a fixed cost for the service,” he says.
Oshman says quick serves can get their crew on board to help better manage food waste.
“Younger staff members are likely to be more environmentally aware and they may not like seeing the amount of food waste that gets thrown out,” he says. “Showing that you're participating in a composting program and working to reduce waste not only saves money, it builds goodwill among customers and employees.”
By John Morell