Across the foodservice lexicon, witnessing a brand “clean up” its menu is becoming commonplace. McDonald’s developed chicken nuggets parents can be proud of. Breakfast titan Denny’s transformed its pancakes into a “50 percent fluffier” edition made with real eggs and fresh buttermilk. The inspiration is no secret, either. Millennials continue to lead spending habits to a healthier, more ingredient-forward place. But does the conversation end with calories, transparency, and trans fats?
US Foods, one of the nation’s leading distributors, has understandably kept its finger on the pulse. What’s next, the company believes, is a rising intolerance for food that doesn’t measure up to consumer’s social values. This can range from hunger concerns to animal welfare to the alarming figures associated with food waste.
In response, US Foods launched a “Serve Good” line of products. According to their own research, less than one-third of consumers feel restaurants offer enough clean, sustainable menu options.
“We felt that it was kind of white space in the foodservice industry,” says Amanda Schmid, a senior product developer at US Foods. “I think folks have done it sort of ad hoc—they’ve launched one-off products or items but haven’t really put together a comprehensive program with products that have different sustainable attributes.”
Schmid reels off a few more statistics US Foods gathered from operator surveys: About 89 percent of Millennials expressed stronger likelihood to buy from companies supporting solutions to specific social issues; 86 percent of Millennial consumers want restaurants to be more transparent about menu items, about where the food is coming from, and how it’s harvested, as well as what sort of attributes the ingredients have.
“So we felt like there was definitely a need to provide products for that group,” she explains.
Schmid says US Foods approached the Serve Good line in two “buckets.” In the first, they targeted responsibly sourced products. This includes key points such as organic, non-GMO, sustainable seafood, animal welfare, cage-free eggs, and proteins raised without antibiotics.
Specifically, US Food is offering Chef’s Line All Natural Turkey Breast Roast, which is made from vegetarian-fed turkeys raised without antibiotics. There’s also Harbor Banks Barramundi, an ocean-farmed whitefish on its way to earning four-star certification under the Best Aquaculture Practices standards. Another is Rykoff Sexton Non-GMO Canola Oil. This product is expeller-pressed, without the use of chemicals, has zero grams of trans fats per serving, and is low in saturated fat.
The second bucket was food waste. Statistics show that upward of 40 percent of the U.S. food supply goes to waste annually, a number that equates to about $218 billion spent in growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten. Feeding America also reports that one in seven people in the country struggle with hunger, and that 70 billion pounds of food is wasted every year. Given that the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the average American eats 1,996 pounds a year, that’s 35,070,140 people who could be fed by just our waste alone in this country.
As staggering as these numbers are, Schmid says US Foods understands it can play a vital role in the challenge.
“Everybody that worked on the program here was pretty passionate about it. We felt like there was a need in the industry and we wanted to be leaders from a sustainability perspective,” she says. “… Not only did we put the program out but we’re also trying to embody those principles as well as a corporation.”
In-house, Schmid says US Foods has been using sustainable, reusable cups that the company developed. “During our research we found that the average American corporate office worker utilized 500 throw-away paper cups a year,” she says. “Our small piece of that was using our own reusable cups that we gave out to each of our workers here.”
In the Serve Good Line, the Monogram Reusable Travel Cups address that need, noting that around 14 billion paper coffee cups are tossed into the wastebasket each year. These cups cut down on environmental waste and costs since they have a long shelf life and are made with polypropylene, a recyclable material that is also BPA-free. Many paper cups that claim to be recyclable are actually lined with polyethylene, which still ends up in landfills.
Returning to the food waste concern, US Foods has a Cross Valley Farms Broccoli Leaves product included in the rollout. The leaves, in addition to being called a “superfood,” minimize water usage and yield an additional 2,640 pounds of harvested product per acre since the whole plant is being featured. The Monarch Eggless Spread, which can be used as an alternative to mayonnaise, is made with vegetable protein and uses up to 10 times less water and requires one-tenth less land.
“I think that product is really interesting because we utilized a byproduct and made it into something that an operator could use in soups, stews or salads, or things like that. It has a high nutrient content,” Schmid says of the Broccoli Leaves. “What happens is when you use the broccoli leaves you’re actually yielding 20 percent more of the plant. So now you’re pulling actually over 2,000 pounds of plant more per acre. It’s just a better yield of crop.”
“I think it’s really important for operators to play a role,” she continues. “I don’t think there’s been much engagement up until this point. There are definitely certain operators who have taken a stance and have made major headway, but I think there’s definitely an opportunity to do more, and it’s something that’s extremely important to the future of our resources.”
Some other products included beer-battered shrimp and Alaskan cod. There are also organic breads and additional proteins raised without antibiotics.
“I think you definitely see consumers headed that way. They feel antibiotics are used too often, right? With the raising of animals, they’re looking for more and more items and products, especially in proteins, where the animals have never been administered antibiotics. … I feel like we’ve really just started to embark on this whole opportunity. We were even doing some surveys of operators, and waste reduction is one of the top concerns they have. So I think you’ll continue to see US Foods develop items that solve that problem."
By Danny Klein