Local sourcing doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. An effort by restaurants to buy at least some products from the region can suggest to consumers a larger dedication to providing flavorful and fresh food while supporting local growers.
“That can pay strong dividends in customer loyalty at the local level,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of the Chicago-based research firm Technomic. And recent data shows that “local” ranked second only to “fresh” on a list of menu descriptors that snag interest from millennials. Only about 58 percent of consumers say they’re more likely to buy items described as organic.
Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails in Jacksonville, Fla, is working with local and artisan producers as part of a commitment to local and sustainable sourcing. “A number of guests choose us because they know they need all-natural ingredients to support a healthy lifestyle and have come to count on us for that,” says Tom Gray, executive chef and owner. “They believe they cannot only see the difference, but taste the difference.”
Local sourcing for restaurants usually means responsible sourcing, too. For example, Yalla Mediterranean, with locations in Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek, Calif., and two more opening later this year in Burbank and Dublin, Calif., uses olive oil from California instead of from Italy or Spain and only California cheese. “For us, ‘local’ really becomes product specific, which makes us more connected to our community,” says CEO Dave Wolfgram. “I believe guests respect, admire and understand our culinary philosophy.”
Foods bearing “free-from” claims are increasingly relevant to Americans, as they perceive the products as closely tied to health. New research from Mintel reveals that 84 percent of American free-from consumers buy foods marketed that way because they’re seeking out more natural or less processed foods. GMO-free foods also are important to free-from consumers (58 percent), with 35 percent ranking it as one of their top three most important claims.
“Consumers are looking to restaurants to have their best interests in mind. The importance of having all-natural, anti-biotic free, hormone free and GMO-free products, when possible, is important to the consumer, who’s looking for a holistic approach taken by the restaurant,” says Wolfgram. “There’s a certain segment of consumers who expect restaurants to be committed to serving the highest quality food that’s naturally and humanely raised.”
And it’s not just on the left side of the menu where consumers are looking for these types of ingredients. There’s a growing number of consumers who seek local and natural meats as well, especially those that are perceived as healthier choices, such as turkey.
Technomic reported in its 2015 Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report that diners are increasingly looking for menu alternatives. The study showed that 61 percent agree that turkey is healthier than beef or pork.
Additionally, the report found that more consumers prefer to order turkey-based substitutes such as turkey burgers and turkey bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as they tend to be more familiar with these products than chicken-based substitutes.
Holding food costs
Another poll conducted by Technomic found that 31 percent of all consumers, regardless of their ages, would be willing to pay more for items featuring the “local” moniker.
Gray says he’s willing to pay a premium for local and farm-raised items such as pork, beef, eggs, herbs and vegetables, even up to two-and-a-half to three times the usual price.
“We mitigate this somewhat by using the whole animal versus paying for prime cuts only, but if we passed the price directly to the consumer using the same formula as most other restaurants that don’t purchase this way, we’d price ourselves out of the market,” he says. “There’s a very delicate and fine line we must navigate to find ways to offer the best products at a price that still allows us to operate profitably.”
Yalla controls food expenses by balancing ingredients to not pass any added cost to guests. For example, thigh meat is used in its shawarma, which has a lower food cost compared to breast meat.
Yalla also uses antibiotic-free and hormone-free beef for beef skewers, which is a high-priced item, but the restaurant then balances the cost with its shawarma menu item that’s a lower cost-per-pound item. “You need to look at the menu as a whole,” Wolfgram explains.
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This post is sponsored by Foster Farms