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Sustainable Cuisine: How Much More Are Customers Willing To Spend?

Trying to save the world? Everybody wants to make his own contribution, including restaurant diners. They love the idea of supporting the cause—local ingredients, organic food. But just how much more are consumers willing to spend for sustainable cuisine?

In a recent report done by London-based market research firm Mintel, there are more than half (tallied at 57%) of restaurant consumers who are willing to spend for sustainable cuisine; the majority, however, are only prepared to pay for 1% to 5% more than a food item’s regular price.

When customers are asked what drives them to visit a restaurant, common answers are menu selection, convenient location and price. “Sustainable and green attributes also come out, although these pale in comparison to the attributes of price, convenient location and menu selection,” noted Eric Giandelone, Mintel’s foodservice director.

The following statistics came out in Mintel’s study when customers were asked about the attributes that they look for in a restaurant:

• 74% base their choice on menu selection;

• 69% looks at the pricing;

• 67% prioritizes convenience in terms of location; while only

• 7% considers the restaurant’s sustainability.

Even in restaurants’ CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives, patrons apparently do not put sustainability in its highest concerns. In the Mintel study, respondents assessed how they value their company’s CSR initiatives, and their priority turned out to be living wages. This was followed by local ingredients and the medical insurance that their company provides.

“The reports showed that the restaurant industry considers employee treatment as its foremost CSR initiative,” added Giandelone. “The younger ones generally support sustainable and green initiatives, but the older consumers place living wages at the top of their list.”

“Green initiatives, however, are what make a restaurant stand out from the rest. In time, these shall become more valued, as sustainability and green movements become more progressive worldwide,” added Giandelone.

Considering the above results, it is important for restaurants to keep their sustainable food costs in check. Ingredients from eco-minded fishermen and farmers are often far more expensive than the usual ingredients that chefs in their smart chefs clothing use in their regular menu items. A lot of restaurateurs actually say that the cost is usually the reason why they are not joining the sustainability trend—they are not convinced that they can afford it.

So how do restaurateurs counterbalance the expense of sustainable cuisine and keep profits (still) at a maximum? Experts advise that chefs, in their elegant yet inexpensive chefs clothing, should maximize every bit of what they buy—including trimmings, scraps and the most unattractive pieces of their local veggies, pieces of meat or fish bones, and use them in other dishes such as soups. As much as possible, do not throw anything edible. Try using underutilized cuts of meat, such as oxtail and short ribs, as they cost lower than the popular cuts. These are less expensive, and customers get the chance to taste something different.

Costing out the entire dish also works. Some local ingredients, like artisan cheese or beef, can really hike the cost up to the 40% range, but if you’d serve them with lower-priced items, like potatoes and pasta, your margins can still be safely protected. And lastly, restaurants are advised to start small. Find one affordable sustainable item, such as local products in season (therefore plentiful), or simple ingredients like eggs and potatoes, and make use of it. Sustainability they say is a long-term goal, and the journey is as valuable as the destination.