RC Show 2019 Sessions Address Sustainability Discussions in Foodservice Industry

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Left to Right: Mike Conway, executive vice-president and president at Starbucks Canada; John E. Betts, president and CEO at McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada; Susan Senecal, CEO of A&W Food Services of Canada Inc.; Nivera Wallani, president and GM of KFC Canada at Yum! Brands; and, Frank Hennessey, CEO of Recipe Unlimited. The executives held court at a panel at the RC Show 19 at the Enercare Centre in Toronto. The CEO panel was moderated by Tony Chapman, a business strategist on Monday Feb. 25.

TORONTO — Foodservice industry leaders discussed matters of sustainability at the 2019 Restaurants Canada Show on Feb 25. Held at the Enercare Centre in Toronto, Monday’s CEO Panel focused on issues of sustainability, food waste and energy conservation.

The panel featured Frank Hennessey, CEO of Recipe Unlimited; John E. Betts, president and CEO at McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada; Mike Conway, executive vice-president and president at Starbucks Canada; Susan Senecal, CEO of A&W Food Services of Canada Inc.; and, Nivera Wallani, president and GM of KFC Canada at Yum! Brands.

Each member of the panel discussed their company’s strategies in building an environmentally and economically sustainable brand that can thrive in today’s market. They also provided insight into how their latest food-technology and innovation practices are contributing to recent success.

“We’ve made some progress with the straws. Susan [Senecal and A&W] beat us to the punch by a few weeks and I’m still trying to get over that,” said Hennessey. “We’ve made more progress on the energy side. That’s becoming increasingly more important as we’re seeing utility rates increase. The carbon tax now coming into play in Western Canada and Ontario — you’re starting to see utility costs in some cases be higher than rent.”

He noted that Recipe Unlimited has added smart technology such as hoods and thermostats, as well as LED lights, at all of its restaurants. It has also added electric charging stations for electric cars at some of its St. Hubert locations. The initiatives have led to a 20- to 30-per-cent reduction on energy costs overall and a 50-per-cent reduction on electricity costs due to installation at LED lights at some of its restaurants.

For Starbucks Canada, Conway said ensuring its buildings are LEED-certified has made a big difference and led to reductions in utility costs as well. The company also launched a national program to provide meals to people in need to tackle food-waste concerns at all of its restaurants. The Starbucks FoodShare program has recently partnered with Second Harvest — the largest food-rescue organization in Canada — to rescue food surpluses at more than 250 stores in the Greater Toronto Area.

“It’s not easy to just tell customers what we’re doing — it’s about our actions,” Conway said. “We’re working together with a number of different organizations to make sure the infrastructure and the business model is right.”

KFC Canada is also tailoring its business to source food sustainably, working with suppliers to purchase and transport food safely, while also reducing waste at all of its restaurants. Wallani said the brand has partnered with Chicken Farmers of Canada and has a third-party accreditation program in place to ensure standards are being met.

“It signifies that all the chicken purchased by KFC meets really high standards of sustainability, animal care and food safety,” said Wallani. “Our suppliers and our farmers are part of the program as well, so they take the same care and pride in the chicken as we do. We also donate surplus food to organizations, shelters and food banks. It becomes a win-win. We reduce our surplus food waste and our restaurants have the ability to make a meaningful impact in our communities,” she added.

McDonalds Canada has also implemented a sustainable-beef program that meets global standards. The initiative has helped bring its sustainability goals to the forefront.

“It’s about making sure your food chain and every aspect of your business is doing something that’s right. You want to take care of the land,” said Betts. “If it’s sustainable, you can use it to produce the products. You want to make sure the animals are treated properly because that’s important to people today. It’s also important to the people who work within your organization — they feel good and ownership to something important.”

Plastic Straws and Compostable Packaging

Earlier in the day, Tyler Pronyk, regional director of Operations (Western Canada and Corporate Ottawa) at A&W Food Service of Canada Inc., was featured in a discussion with Janine Windsor, founder of LEAF (Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice). The pair discussed how A&W has implemented environmental best practices.

As the second-largest burger chain in Canada, the company was the first to eliminate plastic straws from more than 960 of its restaurants. It also continues to look at packaging and composting as the key challenges it’s facing.

“Our consumers were looking to us for leadership and looking for somebody to get rid of the plastic straw. It was really a natural next step,” said Pronyk. “We’ve done glass mugs and coffee mugs for decades as well as plates and cutlery, so this was just one more thing. When we were looking at things like composting and waste services, it was really the biggest contaminant. We’re at a 96-per cent diversion rate from landfill because of our reusable packaging.”

Overall, speakers advised operators to look for free programs where they can find savings through gas and electric upgrades. They also encouraged businesses to tell their stories to connect with consumers and to work with local and national organizations to tackle food waste issues.

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