Restaurant operators, suppliers and entrepreneurs from all sectors across Canada are working together to make innovation and sustainability the operating and cultural core of their business. A recent survey by Restaurants Canada suggests that 67 per cent of restaurant operators rate sustainability as one of the most important factors in their decision making.
“Today, you can operate a sustainable and profitable restaurant — taking care of your people and the planet — it’s one and the same,” states Emily Robinson, food education manager at the University of Guelph.
Foodservice operators across Canada have proven this countless times. “Sustainability makes good business sense as more and more customers make their restaurant choices based on sustainability decisions — plus it saves us money,” says Court Desautels, group leader & CEO of the Neighbourhood Group, a chain of five restaurant/pubs in the Guelph, Ont. area. He adds, “The really neat thing is, multiply the impact of an individual times 2,000 guests per week — then multiply that by five restaurants. We want our guests to know the incredibly positive impact our sustainable decisions are making.”
It all starts with reducing waste
Food waste is responsible for 10 per cent of all greenhouse-gas emissions. Environmentalists and experts agree that reducing food waste is the most effective thing each of us — and restaurants — can do to curb climate change.
“At Tap & Barrel, we recognize the critical relationship between food waste and environmental sustainability. We introduced the Brunner-Anliker robotic vegetable cutter to extend produce shelf life, reduce product waste, and streamline our prep process by processing up to 150kg of product per hour,” says Daniel Frankel, CEO and founder of Tap & Barrel, a chain of five restaurants and a brew hall in Vancouver.
“The key to reducing food waste is to really caring about the product including any scrap bits. Our very popular Potato Skin Cream is just one example of how we do that,” explains Andrea Carlson of Burdock & Co. also in Vancouver.
Compass Group Canada, a leading provider of foodservices across Canada, has committed to reducing food waste by 50 per cent by 2030. The first step in doing so was to complete an exhaustive audit of all recipes to optimize sustainable ingredients, review portion size and meet Compass’s sustainability objectives.
“Over 50 per cent of all of our recipes qualify for a better-for-the-environment tag like plant-forward, flexitarian et cetera,” explains Heather Wilkie, SVP Sustainability and Innovation.
Compass has also introduced Waste Not 2.0, a real-time tracking and reporting dashboard built by chefs for chefs. “It provides managers and chefs with the tools needed to measure and report the carbon impact of their kitchen waste and then develop long-lasting solutions, resulting in a reduction in waste of up to 45 per cent in pilot sites,” adds Wilkie.
Innovation and technology have combined to offer foodservice operators across Canada another opportunity to reduce waste and turn their unsold food into revenue through the use of the Too Good To Go app. Launched in Canada in 2021, foodservice providers are able to sell their surplus or near-expiry food to customers for approximately one-third of the original price as a ‘surprise’ bag. With 75 million users and 209 million ‘surprise bags’ sold, the app also provides foodservice businesses with the opportunity to pay for their food cost while attracting new customers.
“This innovative app supports our sustainability priorities while being a win-win for our franchisees and customers looking for great value,” says Adrian Fuoco, vice-president Marketing for Pizza Pizza.
Understanding what you waste is an important first step in waste reduction. Rethink Resource is an innovative waste-management company servicing the foodservice industry. It weighs each client’s organic, recycling, grease trap, cooking oil and landfill waste then generates a customized Carbon Tracker report allowing operators to measure their carbon impact.
“We transport waste as a resource rather than compacting it like waste — bringing it directly to recycling and composting (or farm) facilities and finally a landfill. Our total waste diversion rate is 90 per cent,” states Shane Harker founder and COO. He adds, “Not one of our clients went out of business during COVID, further proof that operating an environmentally friendly business makes good business sense.”
What you purchase and where it comes from can be the difference between being a sustainable restaurant — and out of business. As part of its commitment to local purchasing, the Neighbourhood Group purchases up to 90 per cent of its food from FEAST ON. Managed by the Culinary Tourism Alliance, FEAST ON recognizes businesses committed to sourcing Ontario-grown food and drink. There are currently more than 150 FEAST ON-certified restaurants in Ontario generating more than $30 million in food purchases. Purchasing decisions go far beyond food. “To be fully sustainable, to reach that full circle, all our supplies — from paper to uniforms to equipment — need to think and operate sustainably. Voting with our money is the greatest influence on change,” adds Desautels.
In October 2022, Vancouver, B.C.’s Burdock & Co. was awarded a Michelin Star for its focus on using local, organic ingredients to create polished, original dishes available at a medium price point. The menu is complemented by responsible wines that tell the story of their unique terroir.
Chef-owner Andrea Carlson says, “We have always been focused on sustainability and supporting our local food systems. We build our tasting menu around what is available each month.”
Each of Carlson’s pre-set tasting menus are built around a theme. “Our Early Spring menu was built around flower power and based on wild foraged flowers — magnolias, red current flowers and cherry blossoms,” explains Carlson. A vegetarian menu option is always available.
To achieve all of this, Carlson has built strong relationships with each of the local farmers, foragers and suppliers she partners with.
“The key to our relationship is communication, so you are aware of what is happening; respect, as farmers are under a lot of stress; and flexibility, so you can adapt your menu as needed.” She adds, “Investing in our local economy just makes sense. If you look close to home you can probably find it. Our next month’s menu includes lemons grown on Salt Spring Island and soya sauce made in Vancouver.”
Selling for $95/person, April’s 6-course menu includes Lisbon Lemon (Stracciatella cheese, Lisbon lemon & Foxglove Farm ginger ice, hosui pear & endives) and Rangpur Lime (slow-roasted lamb saddle, fermented potato & charred grain risotto, Rangour lime and mountain huckleberry) and Meyer Lemon (parfait, malted milk chocolate cremeux, salted biscuit and malt caramel.
“We pair our menus with locally sourced wine that is produced with values that match our own-respect for the land, artisanal technique and no additives,” adds Carlson.Wine pairing is available for $65 or $99/person.
Changes in Packaging
Since December 20, 2022, the manufacture and import for sale in Canada of checkout bags, cutlery, several categories of foodservice ware, stir sticks and straws as defined in the Federal Government’s new regulation, are prohibited. By December 2023, the sale will be prohibited as well.
“To be truly sustainable, we need to break the cycle of single-use packaging and containers,” explains Anna Pham, executive director of LEAF, (Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice). LEAF certifies restaurants demonstrating efforts in environmental best practices.
Founded by Kayli Dale and Jacque Hutchings, two Chemical Engineering graduates with a passion for environmental sustainability, Friendlier provides fully re-usable packaging to restaurants in the London, Toronto and Ottawa, Ont. areas with plans to expand to Montreal. Customers set up an account using the Friendlier app then pay a $0.50 deposit with their purchase. They then return the used containers to any Friendlier bin and Friendlier picks up the bins, scans the unique QR code on each container then e-transfers the deposit back to the customer.
“We have 10 different sizes of packages with the price of each container approximately equal to compostable packaging. Every container is sanitized and third-party testing has proved they can safely be re-used up to 100 times,” explains Jackie Hutchings, COO & co-founder.
Wilkie of Compass Group added, “We have introduced Friendlier at many of our client locations. In our pilot test site, we eliminated the use of 40,000 containers in the first few months of use.”
Tap & Barrel Restaurant Group wanted to eliminate as much packaging as possible, including the bottles, boxes et cetera associated with bottled wine. “To achieve this, we partnered with a local business to pressurize wine into 20L stainless-steel kegs. We then serve each customer from ‘taps’ in a similar fashion as our locally crafted draft beer. Our sommelier purchases all our wine from the Okanagan Valley,” explains Frankel.
Making an Impact Back of House
Operating an environmentally conscious foodservice business must include every aspect of your front and back of house. One of the most effective ways to do that is the installation of a variable speed exhaust hoods. It exhausts air only when it detects grease and steam from cooking, reducing energy use by up to 50 per cent and saving operators an average of $4,000/year. “Approximately
50 per cent of new construction uses this hood. The next evolution will be heat recovery, which takes 50 per cent of the heat from the exhaust air and translates it to the incoming outdoor air,” explains Don Fisher, president, Fisher Consulting.
However, the real future of energy-efficient equipment is the move to electrification. “Induction cooktops heat twice as fast as gas, however can be up to three-times more expensive. A single gas burner is 30 per cent efficient, while induction is 90 per cent. McDonalds, A&W and Earls are just a few examples of restaurants that have moved to all electric when gas is not available,” adds Fisher.
Innovation is also seen in fryers and ovens. “Our fryers have a filtration system that prolongs the life of the oil and keeps it cleaner. This results in better tasting and more consistent food-while reducing oil waste and cost,” explains Frankel.
Creating a Sustainability Culture
Operating a sustainable business also helps operators to attract and retain staff. “Where individuals work matters to associates. It gives them credibility as they want to be leaders in their community,” states Pham of LEAF.
The key to achieving this is creating a culture of sustainability. “We make all our decisions through the lens of innovation and sustainability. Leading people based on these values and shining a light on them creates this culture. It has made a very positive difference in our ability to attract and retain staff,” says Frankel.
Carlson of Burdock & Co. agrees. “Our teams shared sustainability values are what keeps us together, and successful. It is what we believe in and matters most to each of us.”
BY MORAG MCKENZIE