Sustainability is a restaurant trend that restaurant operators can capitalize on, an expert told a packed crowd at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago on Saturday.
“It’s a trend that’s here to stay,” said Alex Nicolaou, the Coca-Cola Co.’s senior manager for sustainability customer strategy, on Saturday at an educational session entitled “Driving Growth with Sustainability.”
About 62% of U.S. consumers surveyed in 2022 said they would reward restaurants that showed a sustainability commitment, Nicolaou said.
In addition, the restaurant operator commitment has grown, he said. In 2019, for example, 58% of operators said sustainability activities were necessary to remain competitive in foodservice. In 2022, that number had grown to 65%, Nicolaou said.
However, he added, “Sustainability can’t be just a marketing slogan. It has to be lived.”
Nicolaou suggested restaurant operators partner with trusted organizations such as the Clean Conservency, the National Park Service or Shoreline Cleanup to give their sustainability programs legitimacy.
“Customers are looking for optimism,” he said. “There is so much lack of trust in this space.”
Areas that consumers say they are influenced by environmental initiatives in their restaurant selection include: recyclable packaging, 33%; in-store recycling programs, 28%; programs to minimize food waste, 31%; sustainably sourced packaging, 26%, financial support for environmentally focused charities, 20%; and zero-emissions operations, 20%
Among restaurant brands having success with sustainability programs, Nicolaou cited A&W Canada, which pioneered programs to switch to steroid- and antibiotic-free beef, chicken and pork and offered compostable cups and removed plastic straws, and Chipotle Mexican Grill, which instituted programs to ethically and locally source ingredients and introduced new restaurant designs to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
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