Written by Nathan Havey – Corporate Caterer Team Member
Corporate catering isn’t on anyone’s list of the most sustainable industries. Almost by definition, we rely on disposable serving platters, plastic utensils, single-use bags for transporting, and packaging-heavy, single-serving drinks and condiments.
In this blog, we will look at how doing your fair share for the environment can not only help your bottom line, but also have beneficial environmental and social impacts.
The items you offer on your menu, and where they’re sourced from are among the most important decisions you have to make. There are several major benefits to sourcing food locally (and a few risks).
YOU CAN CHARGE A PREMIUM
This is no surprise – the explosive growth of Whole Foods and the proliferation of restaurants and even food trucks offering locally sourced produce and other products is compelling evidence that people are hungry for local food – and they are willing to pay a little more to get it.
As you create your menu, if you can’t go all-local, consider adding an item or two that is locally sourced and see how they do. Alternatively, source one or two ingredients – like bread, cheese, and vegetables – locally and build from there. You can justify a higher price for these items (and therefore a higher margin, if your markup is a consistent percentage) and increase your sales.
THE FOOD IS BETTER
Taste, flavor, and freshness are not easily measured, so it is difficult to say definitively that local food is fresher and tastier – but you don’t have to. That perception (one that I happen to agree with) is already out there.
And where taste and freshness fail to persuade, health can be a trump card. Just mention the preservatives required to prepare foods for long shipping journeys and to ensure a reasonable shelf life, or the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hormones used in traditional food production, and you’ve won the argument.
Here again, the perception is out there – so you can either try to change the subject (good luck) or use it to your advantage. Besides, all other things being equal, isn’t the freshest, most wholesome food what we want to eat (and serve) anyway?
SEASONAL MENU ITEMS
If your business isn’t in a year-round growing climate like California, then local-sourcing will also mean building a seasonal menu. Your dessert with fresh strawberries will be hard to get from local sources in February, in New York. Greenhouse farming can mitigate some of this risk (and it will get easier in coming years) but this is definitely a risk.
On the flip side of the coin, having a changing menu could be a great tool for you in fighting menu fatigue and keeping your clients coming back to try your new seasonal creations again and again. Even if you don’t change your seasonal offerings from year to year, the reemergence of your famous Pumpkin Pie each fall could be reason enough to order from you and not your competitor.
The most important reason to source your menu locally is what it says about your business. In marketing they say that thousands of companies and products that people ‘like’ go out of business every year. The key to success is to have people love you.
There is no better way to do this than through the narrative of your company. So who do you want to be? The company whose sandwiches are tasty and cheap? Or the company that is an integrated part of the community supporting other local businesses as much as possible; who cares enough about its customers to ensure that the food they serve is top quality without any of the questionable additives and harmful processes of large-scale food production and distribution – and which serves some tasty sandwiches!
The latter company will have a much easier time creating buzz, getting word-of-mouth recommendations, securing repeat business, charging higher prices, and fostering a vibrant online presence.
The choice between profit and social/environmental concerns is a false one. As we discuss in detail elsewhere on the Corporate Caterer site, sourcing ingredients locally, and minimizing waste is critically important to providing a high quality product and maximizing your profit margin. That makes sense for your profit. It also makes sense for the broader impact of your business.