Revolution(s) in the kitchen(s): the future of sustainable catering in change

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Organic agriculture, new players and places of consumption, food origin and traceability, health and nutrition, the importance of animal welfare and consumer expectations... the catering sector is undergoing major changes. At a time when barely more than 1 in 10 French people perceive the efforts of the hotel and restaurant sector to implement a sustainable development policy, the think-tank UTOPIESin partnership with the METRO Endowment Fundpublishes a further study to take stock of the trends that are shaping tomorrow's restaurant business.

In a sometimes complex regulatory context and faced with the entry of new players such as FoodTech, the restaurant industry is facing multiple challenges that are leading it to redefine itself. An evolution similar to the one that the current food system is going through, but which also echoes the growing expectations of consumers for whom food players, including those in the restaurant industry, must integrate sustainable development more fully into their activities and offerings.

According to Marie Garnier, Vice-President of the METRO Endowment Fund, "... the METRO Endowment Fund is a very important instrument for the development of the European Union. The first study launched in 2010 (1) showed the first developments in the restaurant industry in France. In recent years, strong societal challenges have emerged, as well as new consumer expectations. Face to this acceleration, it seemed important to us to see the evolution of the profession over the last ten years. And things are changing for the better! Restaurateurs are increasingly implementing responsible good practices within their establishments and many players are getting involved and proposing solutions to accompany this evolution. "

Catering, at the heart of a changing food system

In parallel with the multiplication of environmental regulations - which are struggling to be effective in the field - the catering sector has been shaken in recent years by the development of foodtech.

Also, with a total of 6.7 billion meals served per year, catering is an essential outlet for the French agricultural and food industry. In a context where the environmental, social and societal issues linked to intensive agricultural production are more topical than ever, it is a considerable lever for the ecological transition of the agricultural and agri-food world. However, while the sector has a growing offer of sustainable food products, only 37% restaurants offer organic products, and 1 out of 2 times this choice is limited to wine.

Finally, the explosion of take-away sales and the emergence of new models of outdoor catering are leading to a fragmentation of the restaurant's direct environment, which is no longer limited to the enclosed space of the dining room or the kitchen: the environmental and social issues of restaurants must therefore be considered in and around these new spaces.

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Tomorrow's catering: 8 ingredients for a sustainable recipe

To engage in short and local food chains... or even ultra-local ones:
The relocation of food supply chains in the restaurant industry has many benefits: improvement of the environmental footprint related to transport, revitalization of the territorial economic fabric and participation in the food autonomy of cities.

In France, the Croq'Champs initiative, for example, based in Beaumont-lès-Valence in Drôme-Ardèche, offers individuals a 100% organic and local catering service in their workplace. The meals, contained in glass jars to avoid single-use packaging, are put daily in dedicated fridges.

Rethinking the design of single-use packaging :
Restoration is at the heart of the plastic stakes, a central subject of public and citizen concerns. Sourcing containers made of alternative materials to plastic (bio-sourced or compostable), using washable and reusable containers or promoting single-use alternatives to customers: there are many solutions.

For example, in collaboration with the firm UTOPIES, Cojean has taken ambitious measures to move away from plastic: commitment to plastic neutrality, switch to corn starch cutlery, elimination of plastic straws, etc...

Engaging in circular processes :
The fight against food wastage must be seen as a complement to actions of sorting and recovery of organic waste. It also means optimising the consumption of resources, or even basing its model on upcycling.

For example, at Simone Lemon's in Paris, the vegetables are good and ugly. This Parisian restaurant only buys "out-of-gauge" fruits and vegetables - 40% of the food produced.

Fighting inequality and discrimination :
In order to offset the high social stakes and difficult working conditions, a growing number of restaurateurs and retailers are taking proactive steps to recruit people who are statistically distant from work.

As such, the event caterer "Les Cuistots Migrateurs" employs refugee cooks, provides them with accommodation and undertakes to pay overtime.

Another example, supported by the METRO endowment fund, is RADIS, for Anti-gaspiratory Restoration with Double Social Impact, an initiative by Baluchon in partnership with Emmaus Défi. The RADIS has a threefold social and environmental impact objective: to combat food waste by cooking unsold items from supermarkets, to improve the catering services offered to people supported by social structures in the Ile-de-France region by providing them with high-quality, home-made meals and, lastly, to create a support and training programme for people who are far from work in the catering and logistics sectors.

Preserving (and reinventing!) culinary knowledge :
The emergence of the economy of use and functionality is an opportunity for the catering sector to reinvent itself and to position itself as a guarantor of the preservation of know-how, gastronomy and culinary expertise that professionals have the secret.

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The Slow Food movement, born in the 1980s, today brings together more than 1,000 chefs in 15 countries committed to promoting their respective culinary heritage, food biodiversity and the preservation of local cultures.

Experimenting in restaurants beyond food :
As take-away and door-to-door delivery are taking place in cities, the question arises as to what guests are looking for when they go to a restaurant. Beyond the simple consumption of food, the restaurant (re)becomes a place of experience, of meetings, of learning... even of associative and militant commitment.

This can be seen through the increase in urban food courts, such as the Ground Control in Paris, cultural and culinary hubs, food labs and places for experimentation and training in sustainable cuisine.

Prescribing healthier and/or more epicurean eating patterns :
Increasingly attentive to the origin and processing of food, citizens are also looking for very immediate and aesthetic pleasure: the epicurean image conveyed by foodporn also faces social injunctions to physical fitness and well-being.

Thus, new offers are being developed to meet consumer expectations: vegetable vs. ultra-meaty offers, wellness vs. epicurean restaurants, or "alcohol free" coffees vs. happy hours.

Show white paw: transparency and traceability :
Beyond legal obligations, some establishments and signs are banking on a more complete display of information, such as the food industries that communicate on upstream agriculture.

For example, Sublimeurs in Lille showcases the artisans, local processors and the merchants and restaurants that source their supplies there. The company also organises gastronomic walks and events in conjunction with the Tourist Office.

"Food is our primary medicine, our heritage and our culture. ... Faced with the state of the planet, cooking is one of the keys to the ecological transition that our society must make. »
Olivier Roellinger - " For a delicious revolution "Editions Fayard

Restoration commitments need to be more radical, to become more widespread and to change scale.

Today, it must be said that very few major brands are making radical commitments. Some progress has been made, but it is still too little to initiate change and reach the tipping point. The most innovative and disruptive players - who are making responsible offerings more widespread - are overwhelmingly small establishments or structures.

At the same time, in a context where household spending on food is declining, and in a low capital-intensive sector, there is the problem of the accessibility of sustainable catering. Sustainability is in fact perceived as an additional cost, and therefore often seen as a brake. However, the National Observatory of Organic and Sustainable Collective Catering shows in a study that low prices and responsible food are not necessarily antinomic. Out of a sample of 3,041 canteens, those that have introduced organic products would indeed have an average raw material cost equivalent to the national average of the cost of a meal in collective catering, in particular thanks to the fight against food waste, the use of raw and seasonal products, etc.

The territory as a lever for action

Finally, while many objectives can be taken to the national level, the most appropriate scale of intervention to take restoration on the path to sustainable development is, according to the study, that of cities and territories. Indeed, they are an essential lever to be taken into account: they can influence the behaviour of inhabitants and infrastructures, by setting up regulations, but also by being a driving force for proposals on local and collective initiatives. 

Conclusion

Through its central position and its presence in the daily lives of thousands of citizens, the restaurant industry has the opportunity to become a formidable engine of transition in the food system. In the current context of environmental and social emergency, it can no longer be content to be a mirror of food lifestyles and meet the expectations of its customers. It must rethink itself as an actor of change, starting with its own practices... and this is not an easy task.

The sector is evolving in a difficult economic context, affected by the decline in purchasing power and the share of budgets dedicated to food, and the market is highly competitive, marked by the continuous emergence of new models (fast food in bakeries and supermarkets, home delivery of meals, etc.).

In these circumstances, it is easy to think that improving environmental or social practices is not a priority over implementing business or cost-cutting strategies. However, the opposite is true.

Environmental and social issues and economic challenges are intimately linked - it has been shown that making strong and visible commitments is a multiplying factor in the intention to purchase food service purchases, multiplied by 3.35 when the positive attitude of food service brands is perceived. Not to mention that it is also a driver of customer loyalty.

Becoming a third place, a place of exchange and engagement beyond the simple consumption of food allows the restaurant industry to meet the needs for social ties and political and civic engagement increasingly expressed by citizens.

Positioning itself as a guarantor and transmitter of culinary know-how, beyond the societal stakes ... it also means attracting customers - particularly in France where 40% of international tourism turnover before tax is generated by the restaurant industry. Useful for structuring its commitments and ensuring its visibility as a committed restaurateur, adherence to standards and labels is a reassurance of quality - which remains a major criterion of choice.

Catering jobs are unattractive (staggered working hours, low pay, difficult physical working conditions, etc.) and many restaurateurs find it difficult to recruit on a permanent basis. Faced with this situation, opening up to people who are far from employment and playing its role as a social integrator, offering working conditions that are respectful and better-disposing for its employees are all ways for restaurants to develop their attractiveness as employers and reduce the turnover rate. For the restaurant industry, the time has come to reconcile economic and environmental issues! It is possible to combine commercial differentiation with the defense of a fairer, more sustainable and less centralized agricultural model, and restaurants must not give up the quality of life at work, social integration and the attractiveness of a solid employer brand. Many restaurants are starting up, and many tools exist: now it's up to you!

(1) In 2010, UTOPIES published the study " Restoration and sustainable development: issues and best practices "The project was carried out in partnership with Lesieur, Heineken France and Sodexo.

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