Managing a restaurant invites a host of challenges — from hiring and ordering supplies to running the daily operations to ensuring profitability. But now there’s something else to add to the mix: environmental sustainability.
Customers are increasingly pushing for it to be part of their restaurant experience and restaurants must comply to earn their dining dollars. This shift isn’t just reflected in the sourcing of food; consumers also want to know how restaurants source their packaging materials. This can present a challenge to owners and operators: how do you identify and source affordable and sustainable materials so you don’t lose your environmentally conscious customers?
Research released earlier this year by our firm found that 62 percent of Americans say there is a need for more environmentally friendly packaging on food products. So why should restaurants do more to embrace environmentally sustainable packaging? Here are five trends feeding the need to embrace it:
Food waste reduction is growing. Environmental organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council estimate up to 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten. Composting food scraps, switching to a new type of packaging that helps food stay fresh longer, or simply making it easier for consumers to remove all food products from the container would help reduce waste.
Reusable packaging is attracting more interest. Traditionally, reusable packaging was limited to manufacturer and retailer use of reusable pallets, racks, bulk containers and the like. More recently, though, desire for reusable packaging of retail food products is rising. Not only do customers appreciate its secondary use, it also engenders a positive, eco-friendly brand association.
Traceability matters. Increasingly, consumers are basing purchasing decisions on the traceability and sustainability of products and their packaging. At the core, they want to know their packaging comes from a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable source.
The need for better labeling and technology. Consumers are insisting on easier to understand labeling and instructions, particularly related to recyclable packaging. For example, improving on-package labeling that is supported by Internet and mobile app communications would help consumers get better information faster and provide an opportunity for brands to better engage their customers.
Demand for responsibly grown materials is increasing. Restaurants need to consider using materials derived from renewable and sustainable resources whenever possible. For example, virgin paper fiber that’s sustainably sourced from renewable plantations, a fresh take on an old product, is a great way to fill the ever increasing demand for paper products.
Taking time to research and understand the sourcing of your packaging can pay long-term dividends — especially from environmental, financial and brand perception perspectives. With consumers being ever more mindful of corporate practices, it is essential for restaurants to consider their environmental impact and take swift action to be as sustainable as possible.
Ian Lifshitz is director of sustainability and stakeholder relations for Asia Pulp & Paper Group, the Americas. He is responsible for leading the company's sustainability and related stakeholder engagement programs across Canada, the United States, and South America.