People care about the story behind their food. Whether it’s the quality of life of the vanilla farmer in Madagascar, the sourcing of the cherry in their cocktail, how a chef uses food waste to create new dishes, or even how much water pollution is created by the growth of food – responsibility matters.

62% of consumers in 2016 said they stopped buying from companies they felt were damaging the environment.

2016 Global MONITOR Katar Futures

More and more, restaurants like Root Down in Denver and Blue Hill in New York City put their sustainability efforts front and center. But what does sustainability mean today? What are the main tenants consumers look for when thinking about sustainable products, restaurants and foods?

Since many honor April as Sustainability Month, let’s take look at the highlights surrounding the movement.

Knowledge of Source

This can mean sooooo very much: from growing vegetables and meats on a farm to knowing where your food is grown. From a restaurant offering living wages to animal welfare and humane treatment. Dan Barber from Blue Hill in NYC operates a farm where he’s growing the vegetables he uses in his restaurants. He’s also working with farmers to focus on growing vegetables that burst with flavor and seeds that can produce those vegetables for others.

It’s not easy for restaurants today to purchase large swaths of food and keep intact the transparency of the food chain. But restaurants and companies who build the cost of locally sourced ingredients into the cost structure will win here.

Be honest with consumers. In a day and age where consumers are concerned about everything they read, eat, and see, transparency and building trust are key. And building that trust is opportunity. Consumers are more than happy to pay more for locally and knowledgeably sourced ingredients; they want to help and shop local but you have to let them in to the process.


Rescued/Reused/Recycled Foods

Okay, this trend fascinates me. Did you know that Americans waste nearly one pound of food each day? Every time I read that statistic, it baffles me, stuns me, and shames me. I’m no angel. And I wish our groceries were more like those in France. So restaurant chefs of all levels are challenging the status quote with how to use surplus food (aka: rescued), reused foods (discarded ugly fruits being used), and recycled foods (using scraps to make something new).

I recently felt blessed to attend a “Rescued Foods Cook-Off” here in Cincinnati. The local soup kitchen hosted a “Chopped”-style cook-off between two local chefs. Each chef had to choose 3 of 5 ingredients to use in a dish that must be made within 30 minutes. Those 5 ingredients were all rescued/surplus foods: peanut butter, cubed pineapple, red beets, creamed white corn and, wait-for-it…. blue herring in a wine sauce. Yes, the herring was actually used for a dish and, in fact, that dish won the cook-off!

In a second portion of the event, the soup kitchen gave 10 of Cincinnati’s other renown chefs similar ingredients (ghost peppers, Hawaiian sweet rolls, garbanzo beans, pork chunks, rye bread) to make large-scale dishes for a crowd. Cincinnati’s largest brewery held the event and paired each dish with a small sample beer.

Bread Pudding Scraps CookOff

I tell you. This event was fascinating. And delicious. And all for a good cause. The event raised money for the soup kitchen, Our Daily Bread, that uses more than 200,000 pounds of rescued food to feed more than 133,000 meals to the hungry annually in Cincinnati. Bravo to them for the event and for feeding those who need it.

Au Gratin - Scraps CookOff

The 4-hour rescued food events ended up raising 10% of the operating expenses for Our Daily Bread. That’s the equivalent of 13,500 home-cooked meals for those in need in Cincinnati!

This rescued food trend was one of our 2019 Trend Predictions and I can see it staying on the Trend Prediction lists for years to come.


Plant-Based Ingredients

Alright. This. Is. Every. Where.

You can’t throw a stick without hitting a plant-based product today. Each and every day, another amazingly flavorful plant-based product comes on the market. We’ve come along way…

This isn’t just a vegetarian or vegan option any longer. Flexitarians are also helping to drive this growth. The Mayo Clinic links shrinking meat intake (and therefore more vegetables) to a lower risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.

But the health benefits are just one perk of going meat-free. Consumers concerned about the ethical treatment of the animals, water and waste pollution, land use concerns, the water pollution associated with raising livestock, and the overall change to the world’s climate have meat-free options.

The Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat, So Delicious, Silk are raising the bar for all companies and restaurants to create plant-based products that win with consumers.


Honorable Mention Trend: Packaging Materials

This trend is picking up steam and I don’t see it disappearing. We’ve seen a ton of change in just the last two years: plastic bags, plastic straws, foam cups, all gone by the wayside for more sustainable packaging.

Take Bee’s Wrap food wraps for example. Instead of plastic, they use cotton covered in beeswax and other natural materials. It’s washable, reusable and compostable!

L’Oreal USA’s Seed Phytonutrients is sold in a recycled, recyclable, compostable, paper-based pump bottle.

This sustainability story is more than just a story; it’s becoming a way of life for consumers, chefs, and product creators. But the great thing is that it’s showing the best of who we are, pushing boundaries to help our planet, our bodies, and the relationships we have with each other. Bon appétit!

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