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Why Food Service Should (And Is) Dictating Agriculture Policy

Gestation Pete'sYou don’t have to be a tree hugger to realize industrial agriculture creates some pretty cruel situations for animals.  “Gestation crates” are a perfect example – a two foot by seven foot cage that is used to confine sows at large pig farms – of ways cutting costs have led to some pretty poor practices.

In a way it’s our own fault.

Every restaurant manager wants to keep food margin high – that’s where the profits are.  And that means demanding lower prices from suppliers.  Suppliers work hard to oblige us – otherwise we’ll find someone who will meet our demand for lower prices, right?

Well, when they lower prices for us they cut corners.  And that leads to gestation crates.

But some suppliers have decided enough is enough.  The trend was started a few weeks back by Bon Appetit, a large food service provider on college campuses and other institutions.  Compass Group, an even larger food service provider, quickly followed suit.

As consumer awareness of the practices of large industrial agriculture grows, so will the demand for humanely raised food products like pork, poultry, and eggs.
That means all food service operators would do well to stay ahead of the curve on this one and make sure they are sourcing livestock that is raised ethically.
It also means a rise in food costs.

But that doesn’t have to necessarily translate into reduced profits.  Sourcing ethically raised and locally grown meats can be a powerful component of any restaurant’s marketing strategy.  Studies have shown that consumers are willing to pay more for locally grown, ethically raised ingredients when they dine out, and that means you can get away with passing a good portion of the higher cost of those ingredients to your customer and drive new business at the same time.

Consumers vote with their wallets all the time, and the businesses that are able to spot how those votes are trending are the ones who succeed where others fail.  Chipotle is a great example – they have continued to grow at breakneck speed throughout the Great Recession; during a time when consumers scaled back spending on a massive scale, $9 burritos sold like hotcakes.

Why? Because everyone knows how much time Chipotle puts into sourcing the best ingredients money can buy.  It’s not that consumers don’t want to spend $9 on lunch.  They simply demand that they spend $9 on a very good lunch.

No matter what segment of the food service industry you’re in, local, ethical ingredient sourcing can pump up not only the quality of your product but the volume of your sales.  And you just might feel good about yourself in the process.  All the way to the bank.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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