Industry News | October 18, 2010

The New Frontier of Menu Labeling

Max Burgers CEO Richard Bergfors.
image used with permission.

In the U.S., quick-serve operators are scrambling to figure out how they’ll abide by the menu-labeling mandate requiring calorie counts be posted on menuboards. But one Swedish chain hasn’t just figured out how to post non-price numeric information on the menuboard, it’s doing so with a totally different count: carbon emissions.

Richard Bergfors, CEO of Max Burgers, the second-largest restaurant chain in Sweden behind McDonald’s, says adding the carbon footprint to the chain’s menuboard was a way for the company to be honest about its affect on the environment.

“We put it up, as clearly as you can see … so the customers now can see exactly how much the carbon footprint is on each item,” Bergfors says. “That was the idea, to make a debate amongst our customers to try to influence them to make different choices.”

At a burger company that was founded 42 years ago by Bergfors’ parents, encouraging customers to eat something other than beef is unusual. But Bergfors says it’s what is best for the planet—and is not detrimental to business.

“That’s our biggest problem in the burger business—cattle is not the best thing for the environment, so you have to look at ways to reduce our beef consumption,” he says, noting the cattle industry’s growing problem with greenhouse gas emissions.

“The best thing we think is to launch new products that are really good and tasty, so people choose the other products because they like the other products, not because they have to change.”

Max Burgers has rolled out several alternative, climate-friendly burger options, including vegetarian, falafel, and salmon burgers. Since putting carbon dioxide emission counts on the menuboard—an act that made it the first restaurant chain in the world to do so—sales of these types of menu items have gone up 20 percent.

Steering its customers away from beef consumption, however, is not the only way Max Burgers is attempting to support the environment.

“We understood this was going to take some time before we were happy with our efforts,” Bergfors says. “In the meantime, so we don’t make the climate any worse, we offset all of our carbon emissions by planting trees in Africa. We are 100 percent climate neutral.”

Bergfors says the company plants about 90,000 trees a year in Africa.

Max Burgers has also introduced to its stores recyclable packaging and wind and solar power, among other sustainable efforts. It is working on remodeling its restaurants, and one of the newest stores was rewarded with Europe’s highest green building certification.

The fight against climate change was initiated four or five years ago, Bergfors says, after he was moved by activist work such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

“We didn’t know if our company was good or bad for the environment,” he says. “That’s what we started with, to go through the whole supply chain of our restaurants, from the farmers to our restaurants to transportation, to see what climate impact we generate.”

Bergfors says he is unsure if Max Burgers’ green efforts are realistic on a large scale for brands in the U.S.—a country he is considering franchising in the future—but says the worst thing companies can do right now about climate change is nothing.

“It’s better to do something than just sit and stand arguing,” he says. “The most important thing is to do things. I think it’s the same in the States or any country. The most important thing is to do things and then what you do is basically up to each company and what you can afford and what you believe in.”

By Sam Oches

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