Farm-to-table, farm-to-bottle, forage-to-table. These phrases have become nearly ubiquitous on restaurant menus as “local” and “sustainable” have grown from buzzwords into business models.
This surge in popularity parallels the country’s growing focus on environmentalism, but it’s not just a save-the-world impulse that’s driving this trend. People everywhere are looking for a more locally authentic experience, starting with what they eat, leading to an increased scrutiny on the origin and procurement of their food. Restaurants can benefit from this with an opportunity to adjust their menus to provide fresher foods that draw guests. If you’re a chef, general manager or purchasing manager, here are five advantages to hopping on the local purchasing bandwagon:
1. Save Shipping Costs by Leveraging What’s Around You
While chefs and purchasing managers are becoming much more aware of the products they can best source locally, everyone has an opinion on what exactly “local” means. One of the generally accepted definitions is from the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, which defines a “local” product as one coming from less than 400 miles away, or from within the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a list of what’s local in various regions, such as beans in the Mountain Plains, cherries in the Midwest and corn in the Northeast. There are hundreds of locally based suppliers. Not only will you save on shipping costs and have a positive impact on the environment, you may also come across unique offerings for your customers, as well. Perhaps it’s a variety of fish found only in your state’s waters, or a local farm raising a type of meat that’s new to your chefs. Buying local could also open new doors creatively.
2. Secure the Best Products by Planning for the Seasons
Chefs are planning their menus further in advance, which helps secure the best possible products from local suppliers. With many foods, you may not be able to find a local source no matter when you buy. For example, more than 90 percent of the shrimp eaten in North America is farmed overseas, primarily in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and China, followed by Ecuador and Mexico. So unless you are in Louisiana and have access to Gulf shrimp, shrimp will be difficult to find locally. This makes it more critical to know what you can buy locally and when it is in season in your area. Having a list of in- and out-of-season foods makes it easy to check the general availability of your food wish list.
3. Drive Customer Loyalty by Growing In-House
Don’t just focus on what’s around you, consider what’s right underneath (or on top of) you. Growing hyper-local food on the premises—whether it’s tending a garden on the hotel grounds or keeping bees on the rooftop—is becoming increasingly popular. Think outside the box and inside your hotel perimeter. As patrons increasingly want to see the words “house made” on your menu, what do you need to make that happen?
4. Increase Customer Satisfaction by Localizing More than Food
Local food isn’t the only thing that made the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” list. Locally produced beer, wine and spirits are an important way to round out your locally focused menu. And it’s becoming easier to do; increased competition in the local markets leads to better quality products, which means more satisfied customers.
5. Go Even Greener by Using and Reusing
At the heart of local purchasing is a commitment to environmental sustainability, which is also one of the biggest foodservice trends. So be sure to follow this commitment all the way through the life cycle of the product. Use everything you can, then compost, recycle and donate anything you can’t. Not only does this process help you be kind to the environment, it also helps cut costs.
Chip McIntyre is SVP, strategic sourcing for Avendra, a hospitality procurement services provider. McIntyre oversees Avendra’s contracting and supplier management functions, as well as the company’s supply-chain-development team.