Sustainable Sourcing: 4 Reasons to Know Where Menu Ingredients Come From

Bematech Blog - August 10, 2017

sustainable sourcingIncreasingly, savvy restaurant operators make sustainable sourcing an important factor when selecting suppliers. They also make sure they know where ingredients come from. Although driven by social responsibility, restaurateurs can also find that sustainable sourcing leads to other positive outcomes such as customer loyalty and cost savings.

Why Sustainable Sourcing?

1. Customer expectations. Environmental responsibility is of great interest to many consumers, especially millennials and members of Generation Z. These consumers understand the consequences, such as pollution and excessive fuel consumption, of obtaining ingredients from sources in diverse parts of the world. Not sharing their concern and adopting practices that increase damage to the environment could mean you lose these customers.

2. Pollution. “Food miles” refers to the distance food must travel from where it is grown to where it is consumed. You can use Foodmiles.com’s food miles calculator to illustrate how much of an impact importing food can have on the environment. If you import blueberries from Santiago, Chile, to the Washington, D.C. area, for example, they have traveled approximately 5015 miles. If the blueberries were transported the entire distance by airplane, it would produce 1805 kg of carbon dioxide. According to the YouSustain.com website, that single trip produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as the energy used for power in an average household over about two months. Using a supplier in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, however, requires transporting blueberries only about 400 miles. If that distance is covered by vehicle, it would produce less than 120 kg of carbon dioxide.

3. More miles, higher cost. Locally grown organic ingredients may carry higher prices than imported products. However, the cost of fuel needed to transport imported foods can add to the overall price. These costs combined can make sustainable sourcing a more economical choice.

4. Loss of Freshness. Foods (produce, in particular) lose their freshness in transport. Menu items made from imported ingredients that are not fresh could diminish the quality of your menu items.

Managing a Sustainable Sourcing Initiative

Here are some tips to manage sustainable sourcing for your restaurant:

  • Buy local as often as possible. Give priority to wholesalers and suppliers with sustainable sourcing practices.
  • Pay attention to traceability information. Learn as much as you can about the ingredients you purchase and where they come from. Collect data from food labels and supply chain records, such as the route ingredients travel on the way to your restaurant.
  • Leverage your Point of Sale (POS) system’s inventory management and vendor management functions. Efficiently manage purchasing so that you are ordering food that has been transported a minimal distance. Automatically generate orders and re-orders from local suppliers rather than those far away.

The push toward sustainable sourcing is stronger than ever as more consumers understand the consequences of transporting food long distances.  Understanding the why and how of sustainable sourcing is critical if your restaurant plans to make a commitment to environmental responsibility. Weigh the real costs of using imported ingredients and make the smartest choice for your business.