Is sustainability the future of the restaurant supply chain?

Become flexible

Even before 2020, New England-based Oath Pizza practiced the idea of ​​doing more with less, which has proven particularly beneficial lately.

“Oath has always been selective about the products and menu we offer. Through really thoughtful selection and cross-use, we’ve been able to create a menu that caters to all tastes,” says Pam McMorrow, Director of Supply Chain and Product Innovation. Indeed, the fast casual offers vegetarian, vegetable, gluten-free and dairy-free options. “Another thing is that we’re really mindful of the impact on the planet when we’re making our decisions about what we bring in,” she adds, offering Oath’s use of cruelty-free Applegate proteins and recyclable packaging for dishes other than pizzas. as examples.

But even the versatility of Oath’s ingredients couldn’t protect it from bottlenecks along the supply chain.

“The biggest problems were delayed product deliveries and complete product breakdowns; if it didn’t arrive late, it didn’t arrive at all,” McMorrow says. “We had to find alternative methods for deliveries, such as direct shipments or direct shipments from manufacturers.

She adds that thanks to an agile team, Oath was able to handle many of these disruptions in stride. Like Rubio’s, it was also looking for alternatives to products stuck in transit or unavailable. In many cases, replacements were closer to home.

Before COVID, about 75-80% of its products were made domestically, as Oath imported some specialty products, like gourmet cheeses, from overseas. Now McMorrow estimates the share has risen to 95%. The change also saved money by eliminating commercial tariffs and shortening shipping distance. Through it all, the brand has been able to maintain its standards; as a bonus, less transit time also translates to a fresher product with a longer shelf life.

McMorrow says the final piece leaned into creative workarounds with ingredients that, while still fresh and high quality, might not be what we needed. For example, if crusts weren’t the right size for a pizza, restaurants would cut them into squares and use them as croutons on the Caesar salad.

“We have been emphasizing product inventory – or default levels – based on accurately forecasted sales, and we have completely tightened our buying practices to only bring in the amount of product needed” , she says. “By doing this, we have reduced the amount of inventory in our restaurants and the amount of product in the supply chain. It has also reduced the risk of having a surplus that could be wasted.”

General adjustments

Distributors are also adopting a redirect mentality. In late March, US Foods became one of the first major food retailers to join the Upcycled Food Association, an organization whose members recover ingredients destined for landfill and incorporate them into food products.

US Foods’ first foray into recycling is the Hilltop Hearth Pub Grain Hamburger Bun, which uses spent grain flour. A byproduct of beer brewing, spent grains not only find new life as flour, but they also infuse buns with a sweet, earthy, and sour flavor.

One area of ​​sustainability that tends to get overlooked, McMorrow says, is chemicals used throughout the supply chain and in restaurants.

“I don’t think people realize how damaging it can be if you use the wrong products, how damaging it can be to just throw it down the drain. This drain goes directly into our water supplies in some cases or watersheds, and it’s not often thought about,” she says. “Restaurants need to do their homework on these choices; you need to know what is in these chemicals and how their content affects the environment.

In addition to third-party accreditation groups, manufacturers and distributors create their own initiatives to vet the products of their restaurant customers. At US Foods, this culminated in the Serve Good program, which launched in 2016. To be part of Serve Good, products must not only have sustainable sourcing or reduced waste claims, but they must also arrive in environmentally friendly packaging.

Because so many factors are involved in meeting the criteria, US Foods has divided them into five categories: agricultural practices, sustainable seafood, animal care, responsible disposables, and waste reduction.

“Almost all products under the Serve Good umbrella are reassured by a third-party certifier, so we work with Non-GMO Project Verified, USDA Organic, Marine Stewardship Council, Forest Stewardship Council,” says Hannah Koski, Director of Social Responsibility companies at US Foods “Some of these third-party certifications have a long history, but others are new, and we’re excited to be able to incorporate them as well.”

In just six years, Serve Good has quadrupled the number of products (under exclusive US Foods brands) in its stable to 770.

The general distributor is also making progress in how these items are transported. In California, its distribution centers are switching to 100% renewable diesel. In Texas, it is converting compressed natural gas trucks to use renewable natural gas. US Foods is also bringing 15 electric trucks into the fold. The three items on the agenda should be completed by the end of the year.

“How [a product] is delivered is also very important,” says Koski. “We have reported numerous initiatives both in our buildings and in our routes to improve our efficiency and reduce our overall environmental impact.”

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