Never has the story behind our food been more important to diners. In fact, more than 80 percent of diners care about how their food is sourced.* Consumers not only seek good food when they dine in restaurants, but they also look for the story behind the dish. That’s especially true when it comes to sustainably sourced food.

Given this heightened interest, the Association and US Foods brought together a panel of experts to explore how foodservice distributors can make sustainable food-supply sourcing easier for restaurant owners and operators.

In a session presented by US Foods at the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show, the panelists shared several key takeaways:

Anthony Kingsley, local and sustainable product lead from US Foods, a food distributor and tech partner for the restaurant industry.

Question: As the demand for local and sustainable products continues to grow, how do we meet the new customer demands for more transparency on menus?

Answer: There’s an opportunity for growers, ranchers and fishers to share their stories with customers. A recent Datassential study shows that 67 percent of consumers have a better impression of restaurants that offer sustainable foods. Guests (especially millennials and Gen Z) may even be willing to pay more for such foods.

Datassential research suggests diners are willing to pay higher prices for restaurant menu items such as sustainable meats (e.g., grass-fed, or raised without antibiotics), sustainable seafood, or foods that adhere to certain animal-welfare standards. US Foods has created Serve Good and Serve Local– which can be the conduit between food sources and the customer.

Caitlin McMahon, vice president of purchasing and facilities at Tupelo Honey Hospitality, is responsible for sourcing sustainable food for the 15-unit restaurant group, Tupelo Honey Café. The restaurant uses only sustainable seafood and chicken raised without antibiotics.

Question: How do we get that new, sustainable, local product onto our menu?

Answer: Tupelo Honey adheres to three major tenets: Stay with the Southern roots, make it in-house and source it responsibly. Following the tenets make it easy to return to what’s important for sustainable sourcing. However, you should expect some challenges and adhere to the highest food-safety practices. “You need to make sure food safety is part of the discussion — local and fresh is great, but you have to be sure that the guest is safe, that the chain supply is solid.”

Vicki Griffith, vice president of quality and purchasing from Farmers Restaurant Group, has 20 years’ experience managing food safety and supply chain issues for the restaurant industry. Her organization is owned by farmers — the North Dakota Farmers Union — who have a vested interest in getting safe, sustainable products from their farms into the restaurants they own.

Question: What’s the most important thing to do with regard to sustainability?

Answer: There are benefits from changing the structure of your departments. In many restaurant organizations, the quality assurance and purchasing departments can be in conflict. By merging QA and purchasing, the North Dakota Farmers Union sources only when the sourcing, procurement and philosophical approach align. We are also continuously working on better strategies for traceability.

Panelists stressed that it’s not just the products that people want. They also want to learn about the food on their plates. Millennials and Generation Z spend more money on experiences, including those involving food. They want to understand where their food is coming from, hear about the farmers that chefs work with, and learn about other restaurant sustainability initiatives.

Learn more.

This video sponsored by US Foods. Visit Serve Good to learn more how US Foods can help your restaurant business grow sustainably.

*Datassentials: MenuTrends (2016)