Consider sustainability

Thursday, August 17, 2017

An Increase in Social Consciousness, consumers seek eco-friendly terms and sustainable sourcing.

With sustainability evolving as a menu consideration, consumers are becoming more discerning about what they eat.1 In turn, foodservice operators are making conscious ingredient choices featuring seasonality and communicating their sourcing initiatives to customers. Use of the term “sustainable” has grown on menus 148% in the past four years.2

Ethical sourcing and social consciousness are growing. These issues continue to play a greater role in the food decisions of younger generations.3 Consumers want to feel good about their food and beverage choices. The same shift that has turned consumer interest toward eco-friendly products has also resulted in an increased interest in the origin of those products.4

Source sustainably

Overall, 20% of consumers would pay more for items described as sustainable and 50% are more likely to buy items described as sustainable.4 While 34% of operators say they are highly motivated to improve their sustainability efforts, only 40% are sourcing responsibly.5 Sustainability in foodservice operations is perceived more as an operational or sourcing initiative than as an ingredient attribute.

Across various segments of the industry, operators are gravitating toward sustainable proteins. In fact, 33% of limited service restaurants, 38% of full-service restaurants, and 35% of on-site operators say that buying sustainable protein products is important.5

Provide ethically-sourced premium ingredients

Customers are willing to pay more for certain menu items, including premium and in-season products. Premium products include high-quality meats, bakery items, and fresh seasonal ingredients in food and drinks. This also applies to beverage choices like fresh-squeezed juices, hand-prepared drinks, and seasonal ingredients.6 For 34% of foodservice operators, sustainability includes promoting fresh, natural food and beverage products on the menu.5

Customers value name branding on menu boards, especially for beverages – 52% prefer their juice to be branded, 52% prefer that their coffee be branded, and 46% prefer branded condiments.7

Communicate initiatives

Approximately 25% of operators communicate their sustainability initiatives through in-store signs, and around 18% of operators consider this practice to be the most effective means of communication. Other operators prefer to have servers and staff spread the word. Finally, 21% of operators use menu mentions to communicate sustainability messages to customers.2 Customer demographics matter: Millennials, in particular, are engaged with menu boards and frequently check them.8

Operators currently practice and prioritize the following sustainability initiatives.5

  • 58% serve fresh/natural products
  • 57% Conserve energy
  • 55% Use recycled paper products
  • 40% Source responsibly

Help customers spread the word

Patrons eat first with their eyes, so add appetizing images of beverages and desserts to build awareness and potentially boost sales. For Gen Z customers especially, restaurant choices are motivated in part by ethical sourcing and social consciousness. These younger customers are most likely to post social media reviews of restaurants, cafeterias, and other venues. Among Millennials, 17% have done so, as have 12% of Gen X customers, and 11% of Gen Z customers.3 Communicate eco-friendly initiatives and add hashtags on your menu board for new items, seasonal menus, and other important events to promote social media sharing

Customers prefer photos on the menu8

  • 43% Promotions/LTOS
  • 40% Combo meals
  • 24% All items on the menu
  • 42% Entrees
  • 27% Desserts


1. Datassential, CPP – Motivators & Behavior, 2015 
2. Datassential, MenuTrends Penetration – Sustainable, 2017 
3. Datassential, CPP – Generations, J2015 
4. Datassential, The New Healthy Keynote, April 2016 
5. Datassential, CPP – Sustainability, February 2017
6. Datassential, CPP – Value Beyond Price, 2015
7. Datassential, CPP – Branding the Menu, 2015
8. Datassential, Menu Boards Keynote, July 2015