Today’s fascination with all things local speaks to an interesting reality — one predicated on sustainability and supporting our own communities as much as wanting a fresher, tastier product. Increasingly, consumers are holding brands more accountable and, in the process, challenging all of us to do better.
One can expect to see this trend proliferate as the millennial cohort gains strength, power and influence. But, interestingly, as our world continues to change around us, the word ‘sustainability’ continues to take on greater meaning in our lives.
While in the past, the word was typically used to refer to greening initiatives, today it encompasses other aspects, including how we treat employees and what we pay them, our recycling and reducing efforts and initiatives, our relationship with the supply chain and, yes, even our love affair with local.
All of these issues speak to what sustainability is truly about and companies that don’t understand this holistic approach risk losing business and relevancy. At a recent CEO panel at the Restaurants Canada Show in Toronto, many of these topics surfaced as the key factors fuelling change in today’s marketplace.
As Susan Senecal, president of A&W Food Services of Canada said, “We want to reduce single-use items in our units. We’re going to take steps to leave a smaller footprint.” That’s a huge statement from a restaurant chain given that, in the past, operators were often less inclined to think about the implications their actions had on the planet. A&W recently took the lead in eliminating plastic straws from its restaurant operation — a move that was applauded by consumers for reducing plastic and saving the planet, but one that ultimately also saved the company money. A&W’s decision to eliminate plastic straws drove others to follow suit. For example, Nivera Wallani, president and GM of KFC Canada at Yum! Brands, was quick to point out that “food and sustainability absolutely belong together,” touching on the importance of food waste and telling those in the audience that KFC donates surplus food in an effort to reduce waste. For others, such as McDonald’s, sustainability is about improving its supply chain and focusing on 100-per-cent Canadian beef. “Because of our size, we can make an impact,” said John Betts, pointing to the company’s efforts to focus on how animals are raised and how farm land is used. “We asked ourselves ‘how can we maintain the land and quality [of the product]?’” The company worked to establish criteria to meet sustainability standards. “It’s all about making sure your food chain is doing what’s right — making sure animals are treated right starts with what’s good for the planet, but if it’s right, it makes sense for the business, too.”