How to Market Foodservice Sustainability

Plants growing in boxes

Sustainability covers a lot of ground, so make sure it speaks to what's important to your business.

Sustainability is a hot topic in the foodservice business. “Environmental sustainability” was No. 3 on the What’s Hot in 2015 chef survey from the National Restaurant Association (NRA). Depending on your definition, at least four of the remaining top 10 trends also refer to sustainability.

Sustainability means different things to different people. For some, sustainability refers only to environmental issues. Others equate it with support of local communities. Many look at it primarily from the standpoint of health and nutrition. I’m partial to a definition that encompasses all these perspectives and more: Sustainability refers to meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.

That covers everything from recycling and “buying local” to eliminating trans fats and paying employees a fair wage. The broadness of this definition gives you tremendous flexibility in marketing your sustainability efforts to consumers. You can communicate every step you take to increase sustainability in any of these areas. In the process, you’ll demonstrate to customers that you are continuously striving to have a more sustainable operation.

Tips for Marketing Foodservice Sustainability

Spread the word. Share your sustainability efforts on websites, through advertising, table tents, signage, and, especially, social media because of its popularity with younger customers. Put sustainability on your menu. Identify ingredients and dishes that meet your definitions of local, healthy, and/or sustainable. Make your definitions clear to customers on the menu and elsewhere.

Know your sources. The Gordon Food Service NearBuy program helps our customers understand which of the products they purchase meet their criteria of local, and provides ideas for other products they could purchase to supplement their offerings.

Define your positions. Which is more sustainable, a radish from a local farmer who makes extensive use of synthetic fertilizers or a radish from an organic farm 1,000 miles away? Develop your own philosophies and rationale on buying local and other sustainable issues—and be ready to defend them.

Enlist employees. Use role-playing to train employees to present your sustainability efforts to customers and the outside world.

Look to suppliers and vendors. They’re marketing sustainability, too, and you often can piggyback on their efforts.

Engage the community. Join local groups and send press releases about your sustainability efforts to local media.

Don’t say you’re sustainable. You are always working to become more sustainable, but you never will be perfect. Acknowledging this will help deflect the naysayers who may point to not-so-sustainable aspects of your operation Each of these brand metrics qualifies as sustainable under our definition. So your customers need to be made aware when you do anything along these lines.

Gordon Food Service Stewardship

The Gordon Food Service Annual Stewardship Report outlines the environmental and social investments made by the company.

In 2009, Gordon Food Service developed our Stewardship Statements of Direction in response to a growing interest in sustainability on the part of our customers, employees, vendors, and communities we serve. The Stewardship Statements of Direction are comprised of three main goals – ensuring corporate sustainability, minimizing environmental impact, and promoting social responsibility.