When COVID-19 reared its ugly head in early 2020, the world suddenly and irrevocably changed. In the blink of an eye, the foodservice-and-hospitality industry become one of the hardest-hit industries and operators watched in disbelief as business dried up overnight. It stood to reason then that staying afloat became the biggest concern for operators and everything else took a back seat — including the topic of sustainability.
Two years later, as we slowly learn to live with the perils of the unpredictable pandemic, sustainability efforts are slowly starting to make headlines again. In recent weeks, we’ve watched with interest as QSR chains such as A&W, Starbucks and Tim Hortons have announced changes to their coffee-cup programs.
A&W was the first major QSR to come out of the gates when it introduced the Zero Cup, a plastic-free, recyclable and fully compostable lidless cup with a leak-free top. The design innovation was created by UK-based Butterfly Cup Design and is made entirely out of paper. Starbucks quickly followed suit, announcing that after 35 years, it was getting rid of its white cup with its green logo of a two-tailed mermaid. Intent to reduce its waste by half over the next decade, Starbucks is moving to a more sustainable option, including giving customers the option to use their own personal re-usable cups for every visit in the U.S. and Canada.
Additionally, the company is testing re-usable cups under a pilot program called “Borrow a Cup,” which would offer drinks in a re-usable cup that customers take with them, and then bring back to be professionally cleaned and used again. For customers who prefer to remain on premise, the company would offer “For-here-ware.”
Similarly, for quite some time, Tim Hortons has also been re-evaluating all its packaging and developing new solutions for the short and long term. Selected restaurants have already been receiving white hot-beverage lids. The company is also expanding re-usable and returnable packaging trials in some markets, including a pilot project that will offer guests at participating restaurants the option of paying a deposit and receiving re-usable and returnable cups.
After years of watching “green” changes percolate, it’s gratifying to see so many finally taking shape, fuelled by consumers’ insatiable thirst for change. As evidence of this, when I recently posted the news from A&W on my social-media feed, the flurry of comments it generated was astounding, with the post receiving more than 373,000 impressions, more than 216 shares, and a level of engagement and conversation that was beyond belief, proving yet again that today’s consumers are looking for more than good food and service from the industry — they’re also demanding true leadership and accountability.