Why sustainable packaging is a 'must have' for restaurant success

As the farm-to-table trend and push for transparency in nutrition labeling grows, consumers are now closely examining the ingredients that go into the food they purchase, prepare and consume. That means there is an increasing demand for fast casual and quick service restaurants to provide sustainable packaging for food products.

According to a survey by Asia Pulp & Paper, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of Americans want sustainable food packaging and clear, understandable labeling reflecting these materials. So not only are consumers paying attention to what is in their food, but they also want to know more about the type of packaging in which their food is wrapped and whether it is sustainably sourced.

In order to meet growing consumer desire to include environmental information on labels, whether food related or packaging, restaurants must first implement end-to-end sustainability practices across their global supply chains. Brands need to be mindful of the role that sustainability plays when consumers make purchasing decisions and aware of how perceptions are influenced by corporate environmental practices. These insights can lead to a deeper level of understanding and engagement with customers, which by extension can aid overall brand loyalty.

Over the past decade, the American public has placed a strong emphasis on nutritional labeling and transparency. Yet, as indicated above, the push for transparency and sustainability now extends to all facets of a brand’s supply chain and overall operational processes. Sustainable packaging is a critical manifestation of this. The implication of this development is significant for brands and should be carefully considered.

Let’s dig deeper and consider two trends that prove restaurants must embrace sustainability in packaging.

Growing consumer demand for sustainability in the food industry. As previously noted, according to the survey, 62 percent of Americans want the food industry to include sustainable packaging information on product labels.

In previous years, consumers may have perceived environmental info on food labels as a “nice to have.” However, as the role of sustainability has become a priority for Americans, restaurants — and the entire food industry — must be more focused and attuned to shifting consumer preferences to help inform business planning efforts.

Movement toward supply chain transparency and sustainable practices. According to the survey, half of all Americans (51 percent) are more likely to recommend a brand or product if it includes sustainability / environmental-related information. This is a trend that many companies are closely monitoring. Changing consumer attitudes, paired with business, regulatory and environmental pressures, have prompted world-renowned brands to accelerate supply chain transparency and prioritize sustainability.

A recent example is McDonald’s commitment to zero deforestation across its supply chain. Other restaurant brands, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme and Yum! Brands have also followed suit. These companies recognize the importance of sustainable sourcing, and the need to bolster transparency across global supply chain operations and manufacturing processes. 

Restaurants should continue to make strides to source packaging materials from sustainable and transparent sources. There is a clear financial incentive for companies to make smart investments in zero deforestation and other environmentally friendly practices, which extend to the food and associated packaging materials they distribute to the market. Companies that are better prepared to handle these changes will be in a more competitive position.

If there is one thing restaurants and food brands should take away from these findings, it is that an increasing number of Americans are placing value on the role of sustainability in packaging and sourcing. Efforts to meet this emerging trend must extend into all aspects of a company’s operational and manufacturing processes. Restaurants and the food industry in general, must be mindful of shifting consumer preferences and buying habits, particularly from the perspective of how sustainability influences purchasing decisions and brand loyalty. Food brands that don’t prioritize the integration of stronger and more transparent environmental practices in their supply chains and products run the risk of suffering from a reputational and financial perspective.

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