The Food ChannelÂ® has its eyes and ears on the food industry, including industry conventions and events. Chain store operators meet annually as part of the International Foodservice Manufacturer’s Association, and here is a report on what we observed at the COEX 2008 (Chain Operator Exchange) convention in Phoenix.
Sustainability is about Responsibility
Sustainability, in a sense, is about preserving a certain condition or way of life. It is both social and environmental. Sustainability awareness is rapidly increasing, and grassroots consumer definitions are beginning to be reflected in what happens in farms, restaurants and throughout the consumer supply chain.
It’s not just about being â€˜greenâ€™ anymore, although that’s here to stay. Today’s consumers want their favorite restaurant and their food to be socially responsible as well as green.
The theme at COEX this year was collaboration, and it showed up in discussions of innovation and partnerships. The general mood of the audience was that collaboration is the best way for us all to survive the troubling economic times ahead.
Dr. Tim Ryan, President of The Culinary Institute of America, spoke of three things that should be driving innovation:
- Global Flavors
- Menu Ethics
He spoke of the increased consumer demand for local, sustainable, organic, environmentally friendly, fair trade, hormone- free and chemical-free, and animal rights. It is these principles that will enable the food industry to feed the world in this time of global demand.
Kevin Higar, the Director of Operator Product Development with TECHNOMIC, also talked about sustainability. He shared some interesting consumer research in the break-out meeting on Corporate Social Responsibility. It was eye-opening for operators to learn that over 72% of the consumers they serve are very concerned with social issues, including the availability of health insurance and a living wage for restaurant employees, as well as animal welfare and environmentalism.
Laurie Demerrit, President and COO of The Hartman Group, shared their research findings into how consumers view the principles that make up sustainability, how health and wellness in food products is top of mind of consumers and how they make a key connection of sustainability to quality in products. Consumers believe that business should provide leadership in advancing the principles of sustainability.
Alison Dennis, Director of Supply Chain Management for Burgerville Restaurants, a chain of 39 restaurants in the Northwest, spoke of their progress in making quality affordable healthcare available to all who work over 20 hours a week. She said that investment in their people has had a positive return in measurable employee cost savings, as well as significant improvements in service from a team who feels valued, empowered and committed to company success. Dennis also detailed successful sustainability programs such as:
- the conversion of used trans fat free fryer oil into Biodiesel,
- the use of wind power credits equal to 100% of their energy use,
- their commitment to the use of fresh, natural and local products
- a new recycling and composting program that’s estimated to save $100K annually in hauling charges.
Peter Truitt, President of Truitt Bros., an innovative processor of a variety of quality sustainable products from Oregon, spoke about why they have practiced sustainable principles for almost 35 years. He said, â€˜It’s just the right thing to do; we want to preserve this land for our children and future generations. We didn’t know the term Ã¢â‚¬Ëœsustainability’ until a few years ago, but we always felt duty bound to support our growing partners that were changing agricultural practices to preserve the land.â€™
Truitt Bros. has collaborated with The Food Alliance, the foremost sustainable practice certification organization in America. Truitt said, â€˜We subject ourselves to rigorous third party inspection of our ecological and social responsibility practices to earn annual Food Alliance certification of our plants and some of our products. They help us on the sustainability journey of continuous improvement.â€™ The Truitt brothers also know first hand that a team committed to sustainability is committed to quality and to the future. Truitt takes care of their team and their community and the team takes care of the quality product and the customers
Karl Kupers, Director of Marketing and managing partner of Shepherd’s Grain, a cooperative of wheat, bean and legume growers in the Northwest, spoke passionately about the need to maintain and develop the quality and health of our soil. Soil quality and health relate directly to the quality and health of the crop, the product produced from that crop and the consumer of that product. Karl credits the organic movement with bringing preservation and health awareness to consumers and blazing the way for products in the retail and foodservice channels. But he said for the future, â€˜Organic is not enough â€“ an organic system by definition is not flexible and can’t feed the world practically in the future.â€™
Leslie Hutter, Senior Vice President and Managing Partner of Noble Communications (parent company of The Food ChannelÂ® and part of the International Food Futuristsâ„¢) closed out the meeting with a session entitled Navigating the Green Space. She dealt with cultural drivers and a few key points that must be kept in mind on the journey toward sustainability:
- First, in today’s transparent world, be true to yourself and your consumer about what you are doing â€“ don’t fall into â€˜green-washing.â€™
- And second, don’t apologize about what you have yet to accomplish; be proud and communicate what you have done.
Sustainability is a consumer-driven movement that won’t and shouldn’t ever go away. The leaders present at COEX this year heard that loud and clear.
Some information provided by the International Food Futurists.