New York-based fast-casual salad and bowl chain Just Salad on Monday released its annual environmental sustainability report, in which it announces upcoming sustainability moves. Next up: making the brand’s reusable bowls available for off-premise dining.
The chain’s reusable bowl program, originally created in 2006 with the goal of diverting 100,000 pounds of disposable container waste from landfills annually, will now be available for online orders.
“A greater share of our customers are ordering Just Salad online versus going into the store,” Sandra Noonan, chief sustainability officer for Just Salad, told Nation’s Restaurant News. “And so, with increased urgency, we said, ‘our whole program has to go digital.’ The waste piling up on the sidewalks in New York City is daily evidence that delivery waste is a problem, and it's here to stay, unless we tackle it head on.”
The option to check zero-waste is available on the website when placing an order for pickup at Just Salad’s Murray Hill location, where the pilot is running. Noonan said that even with no marketing and a single-store pilot, around 30% of customers have already used the off-premise reusable program since it launched early this year. Delivery is next on the horizon.
“In 2020, our world changed but our values did not,” Noonan and Nick Kenner, CEO and founder of Just Salad, wrote in the sustainability report. “The COVID pandemic made us more determined to create a new normal for our industry – one in which waste is taboo, reusables are taken for granted, and doing ‘less bad’ is not good enough.”
Currently, reusable bowls must be handled with tongs by staff when they are brought into locations as the customer’s own personal bowl, as health code requirements dictate outside containers cannot touch shared prep spaces.
With the new program, customers can order food online in a reusable bowl, then drop the dirty bowl off at a participating Just Salad store for washing and sanitation before it’s brought back into the program. This eliminates the extra step of handling reusables with tongs, and adds extra precaution since it’s cleaned in-house.
The chain’s goal is “to prevent waste before it happens” Noonan told NRN.
The report, available in full here, lists the chain’s 2020 sustainability accomplishments, including carbon labeling, the introduction of the zero-waste meal kits Housemade, the addition of the sustainability champion role across all locations, and more.
The sustainability champion at each store receives additional training and education on the brand’s efforts to minimize its environmental footprint, and serve as the conduit to relay feedback from customers and team members to Noonan.
Among other highlights from the report, Just Salad:
- Donated $1 million in meals (10,000 per day) to feed frontline healthcare workers during the COVID crisis and minimize surplus food volumes at the end of the day;
- Required guests to request single-use plastics rather than automatically providing them;
- Introduced reusable face masks for store members with fashion house Kenneth Cole;
- Began a test with zero-waste online ordering platform DeliverZero;
- Discussed its efforts to cut energy usage by 25% or more by partnering with Budderfly, an energy efficiency as a service provider; and
- Created washable dine-in bowls.
Many programs, including dine-in bowls, reduction in plastic packaging, changing the size of to-go bags and forcing customers to check a box requesting for utensils before paying, Noonan considers “not glamorous” elements of sustainability, but the necessary parts that add up to make a big difference.
Noonan said her biggest shock looking at the report was seeing the numbers add up from these programs. The equivalent of 1,000,000 bags was saved by the paper delivery bag size reduction — which Noonan went directly to the vendors to accomplish — while the reduction in plasticware has reduced thousands of pounds of plastic waste.
According to the report, if 50% of digital pickup and delivery customers opt out of plastic utensils, the avoided production and landfilling of these materials would translate to 2.3 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions averted annually.
The report also presents Just Salad’s 2021 sustainability programs. These include:
- Integrating sustainable behaviors into its loyalty and rewards program;
- Partnering with research scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, Tulane University and Harvard University on a behavioral survey related to its carbon labels; and
- Reducing food waste through a pilot with the surplus food app Too Good To Go.
Just Salad says it is the first New York City restaurant chain to join the Too Good To Go program, which takes excess food that cannot be stored overnight and sells it at a discount.
The report concludes with tangible ways consumers can reduce their own carbon footprint and encourage others to do so, plus steps policymakers can take to incentivize sustainability.
Just Salad has over 40 locations and is testing the reusable bowl program at 600 3rd Ave. in Manhattan.
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