Reusables are on the rise, if the latest news from McDonald’s and Starbucks is any indication. The brands are backing a pilot program called the NextGen Cup Challenge, which involves developing reusable plastic cups with trackable QR codes or RFID chips. Bloomberg reports that the cups are intended to be returned by customers, cleaned and then reused in an effort to take a large bite out of the billions of plastic-lined paper cups discarded by customers of the two brands each year. Is there opportunity for returnable, reusable cups, plates and utensils in your operation? A number of brands – large and small – are providing models for how it can be done. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the 40-unit fast-casual brand Just Salad has offered a reusable bowl program for close to 15 years – guests who choose their reusable bowls get a free topping on their salad each time. (The brand recently launched a sustainability initiative that rivals those of much larger brands.) It remains to be seen if such incentives will become necessary as restaurants offer more reusable items. Other chains are taking different approaches: The Counter reports that the fast-casual brand Dig, which estimates that 80 percent of its business is take-away, recently launched a program called Canteen. Enrolled guests install a smartphone app and pay $3 each month for a hard reusable bowl that they can return to Dig for washing (and subsequent refilling).
Has your restaurant resolved to use less plastic in 2020? It seems everyone has some plastic guilt nowadays – and there are businesses cropping up to help operators replace plastic and also find new uses for the plastic that already exists. Take Riegel Linen, which was among eight companies to win Restaurant Technology News’s “Restaurateurs’ Choice Award for Environmental Good” competition. The company, which makes linens for a range of industries, found a way to integrate leftover plastic bottles into its textiles. Riegel Linen collects, sorts and inspects plastic bottles, then sterilizes and dries them before crushing them into chips, Restaurant Technology News reports. Once melted down, the material is made into a new fiber that Riegel Linen uses to make napkins and tablecloths. Its RieNu napkins are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled polyester.
Looking for alternatives to plastic for off-premise food packaging? Increasingly, it’s coming from plants. Corn is currently being used for plastic alternatives ranging from straws to containers, but according to a report in Scientific American, the disposal of the material poses challenges, along with leaving an environmental footprint. It is compostable and not recyclable, so if not sent to an industrial facility where it can biodegrade, the process can take between 100 and 1000 years (versus just a few months). Still, other promising and more easily biodegradable plant-based plastics are being developed from materials ranging from cactus to algae. Some are even designed to eliminate waste altogether. The Spoon reports that the startup Decomer is developing a plant-based capsule containing honey. It can dissolve in coffee, tea, or other liquids at a wide range of temperatures.
Now that Uber Eats is testing a “Dine-In” feature on its app, expect other third-party delivery providers to follow suit. The feature allows a person to order food at a restaurant, track the process of its preparation so she can arrive at the restaurant in time to eat it, and also leave a tip. The benefits to restaurants could include having to pay a smaller fee to the delivery provider than would be required for third-party delivery, faster table turnover, and the opportunity to offer deals that could attract dine-in guests during slow periods. It remains to be seen how accurate the app’s food preparation tracker will be at peak periods, but if you’re struggling to fill seats, it might offer an opportunity to entice guests to come in and sit down.
At a time when restaurant businesses are feeling pressure to identify new revenue streams, the CIO of Mattson, a food and beverage innovation firm based in Silicon Valley, says many operators are missing out on a potentially lucrative opportunity: meal kits. Barb Stuckey of Mattson told Restaurant Dive that she has long been urging operators to take a look at offering the kits to at least determine if they make sense financially or operationally, but few are following through, save for perhaps Chick fil-A. The brand tested meal kits to positive results last year, according to Forbes, though they haven’t announced future plans for them. Stuckey likes the kits because she thinks they can help operators attack some of the quality-control issues they may experience with delivery. For instance, kits may be worth a shot if you have menu items that could do well off-premise but may not travel as well when they are fully cooked (like fries and sandwiches). Or, if you have brisk lunchtime traffic, promoting the kits during lunch may help you sell to guests who want to sort out their dinner plan in advance. At least, the category could help restaurants tap into a less saturated segment that is ripe for reinvention. According to Packaged Facts said, meal kit market expansion in the future is likely to rely more on alternative purchasing venues than on the traditional subscription model, which can clash with the on-demand mentality of off-premise customers. Restaurants can provide that on-demand experience.
Environmentally friendly packaging is rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception. Case in point: Some of the largest foodservice brands in the world — including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and others — have joined forces in an effort dubbed the Next Gen Cup Challenge to identify a cup that’s easily composted or recycled. Fast Company reports that most of the hundreds of billions of paper cups that end up in landfills each year are coated with a layer of polyethylene that makes them great for holding liquids but poor for the environment. Companies from around the world have submitted designs and 12 have been selected to share a grant that will enable them to test and mass-produce their cups. Brands will begin testing contenders in September, so watch them for clues as to what products are in the pipeline.
Delivery has long been more about convenience than taste — it’s hard to make a delivered meal tastier than one served right out of the kitchen, right? Well, that may be changing as operators think more scientifically about food preparation and delivery. The Spoon reports that the fast-casual brand Dig Inn just piloted a delivery-only virtual kitchen called Room Service that rethinks food preparation for delivered foods. In a restaurant, for example, Dig Inn cooks salmon to medium-rare at 115˚F and then serves it immediately. Salmon ordered for delivery via Room Service, however, is plated rare at 105˚F, then paired with a hot potato puree that travels well. Along the route, the puree warms the salmon so the transit time improves the quality of the item when served. It’s food for thought for restaurant operators offering delivery. As ghost kitchens become more prevalent and improve upon the methods long used for delivery, how well do your food preparation plan and food safety program adapt?
Americans currently eat half of their weekly meals on the go, according to Statista research. If you haven’t yet taken steps to accommodate the convenience-driven consumer looking to satisfy a craving, you stand to lose market share to not only restaurant competitors but also to grocery and convenience stores offering prepared food. A QSR Magazine report suggests operators looking for a greater share of grab-and-go business ensure their menu effectively promotes the brand. While grab-and-go food is becoming ubiquitous, it can fall short when it’s too generic, with the expected mix of yogurt parfaits, fruit cups and pre-packaged sandwiches. If you have a dish or even a condiment that is a signature item, find a way to translate it to your grab-and-go menu. The report also advises operators tap into the millennial mindset when selecting and packaging grab-and go menu items. Think locally sourced, plant-based foods and “ugly” produce, along with environmentally friendly packaging that demonstrates your commitment to cutting back on waste. Consider using packaging that not only showcases your food effectively but can be returned and reused (in exchange for a discount on a future order, perhaps). Layered salads or smoothies served up in glass mason jars are just two examples. Finally, don’t forget to weave in on-trend flavors. A report from The Caterer suggests Japanese-inspired dishes like gyoza dumplings or yakisoba noodles can add interest and health to a grab-and-go menu, along with fruit-and-herb infused beverages.
The multiple benefits of grab and go
Consumers want their grab-and-go foods — 80 percent of consumers say they snack at least once a day, according to Technomic’s 2018 Snacking report, up from 76 percent in 2014. What’s more, consumers continue to crave not just sweet or salty snacks but high-quality options that are healthy and fresh. This trend is on display everywhere from hotel lobbies — many of which have been transformed in recent years into mini convenience stores — to hospitals to restaurants. (In fact, in 2016 Team Four launched a program called Charging Station to provide grab-and-go concepts for college athletic programs looking to provide an expanded variety of nutritious meal and snack options to athletes. Soon after, hotels and military organizations got involved too.) The good news for restaurant operators is that the grab-and-go trend is not only good for the all-powerful millennial consumer, but it is also beneficial to the operator trying to carve out a budget for labor at a time when certain states have mandated a $15 hourly wage. Restaurants that provide quality grab-and-go options can often cut back on labor expenditures, particularly on the front end. But even on the back end, grab-and-go options can help operators make use of ingredients that are pre-sliced and pre-cubed, which can shorten preparation processes and don’t require as much highly skilled labor to prepare. If you offer grab-and-go items, offer quality ingredients such as nuts, seeds, produce and lean meats, and make sure these items are packaged well, labeled clearly and require little preparation and cleanup. And just as you would do with your restaurant menu, consider incorporating local items and ethnic ingredients. For more information about how Team Four can help you develop a grab-and-go concept, contact us at email@example.com.
The year 1894 brought the “paper pail” now ubiquitous in Chinese food takeout. The early 1960s brought us the cardboard pizza box. Now, in the face of consumer demand for eco-friendly packaging and growing demand for off-premise dining in general, we could be on the cusp of another big change in takeout food packaging. Technomic reports that in 2016, 60 percent of consumers said they would pay more for takeout meals if they were packaged in an environmentally friendly way. That number decreased to 52 percent in 2017, not because the demand for such packaging had fallen but because consumers now expect restaurants to offer it. If you currently provide single-use plastic for your takeout business, it’s time to offer alternatives and work with partners who support them — some third-party delivery partners now notify customers that they will not receive non-recyclable items like straws or packets of ketchup unless they request them. Shake Shack, for one, is now looking to bypass materials that are simply recyclable in favor of options that are biodegradable on their own.