To what degree does sustainability influence consumer dining decisions? Quite a bit, it turns out, according to research firm Technomic Inc. During "Sustainability as a Key to Better Foodservice Business," part of The Coca-Cola Company's monthly educational webinar series, the company offered industry research and valuable insight on the topic, including the fact that many consumers prefer to do business with foodservice providers that demonstrate corporate social responsibility as well as prioritize sustainable practices, a fact that translates into greater potential for profits.
What Sustainability Means
It's important to understand what the word sustainability means.The Coca-Cola Company frames it from three viewpoints: Me, We and World:
In the webinar, Technomic Inc. explained to attendees that sustainability focuses on environmentally friendly practices as well as community involvement and the work environment.
According to the firm's research, these are the most important factors in consumer dining decisions:
Technomic's research also reveals that 73% of consumers are concerned with the environmental impact of foodservice establishments, yet they feel the industry is only beginning to address environmental, social and sustainability issues.
Leading by Example
Technomic also identified the most important factors related to sustainability for operators, many of which align with consumer priorities (overlapping factors are italicized).
Technomic found that 50% of foodservice operators think sustainability is very important, while 43% think it's somewhat important. The good news is, the message has reached operators, and the landscape is shifting to include a greater emphasis on sustainability.
Some of the world's more popular restaurant chains have been successful in communicating their dedication to sustainability. For example, a large coffee retailer has earned a reputation as a brand synonymous with employee diversity, good working conditions, and recycling, while a quick-serve Mexican restaurant has launched many campaigns to champion its "no antibiotics" and animal welfare priorities. These sustainable practices have helped boost sales and drive consumer loyalty for the brands.
Change for Good
So important is sustainability that Technomic found that 60% of foodservice operators have recently changed one or more of their restaurant's practices. Seventy percent have made edits to their menus or item selections, 53% have altered their customer communications, and 46% have changed their sourcing.
In our highly diversified, connected and global world, sustainability has become a best practice and a competitive necessity. Though some operators worry that sustainable practices are expensive or difficult to conform to, evolving into a business that cares about the environment, employees and customers won't be a "nice-to-have" option for long. As customer perceptions demands and expectations evolve, operators who prioritize sustainability in relation to people, processes and products will be the ones enjoying profitability.