Why 'locally sourced,' 'organic' aren't just buzzwords

Why 'locally sourced,' 'organic' aren't just buzzwords

By Jason Malmasarri and Steven Rodgers, HAVI Global Solutions

Restaurants that offer organic and locally sourced menu items are ahead of the game, and  we should expect to see more local and organic menu items in the future, as QSRs continue to respond to changing consumer tastes and preferences.

More than 60 percent of consumers surveyed said they're likely to purchase locally sourced food or beverages, according to Technomic. Additionally, 26 percent said they would pay more for these items, and more than half of consumers report eating locally sourced food at least once weekly.

So the question is, why such interest in local?

More than half of the consumers surveyed by Technomic said local foods taste better. Additionally, many said they seek out less processed, more "natural" foods, and they equate locally sourced items with these characteristics. Likewise, many consumers say they eat these foods because they are concerned about the environment and want to support local farmers and business people.

But, it's not just consumers attracted to local and organic foods. The National Restaurant Association polled nearly 1,600 chefs about the hottest 2016 food trends and three of the top 10 responses included the word "local." They included:

1.   Locally sourced meats and seafood
3.   Locally grown produce
4.   Hyper-local sourcing.

Brands going "loco" over "local"

Apparently, consumers voices are being heard loud and clear on this subject, because brands are responding to this trend across the spectrum of the food industry.

FranchiseHelp reports, for instance, that fast food chains' demand and use of locally sourced ingredients is increasing. And Technomic MenuMonitor data shows "local" call-outs on restaurant menus has increased in the past five years by:

  • 150 percent for desserts.
  • 137 percent for main dishes.
  • 82 percent for appetizers.

Some examples from around the QSR world, include Wendy's nationwide store offering of Honest Tea organic beverages. At Elevation Burger, the menu now boast 100 percent organic beef burgers. At Noodles & Co, the offerings include naturally raised pork and organic tofu. And Papa John's has even incorporated this trend into their marketing catchphrase with the "Better ingredients. Better pizza' tagline. They even promote the fact that the tomatoes they use go "from vine to can in about six hours."

But, do consumers really know what they're asking for?

There is some evidence that this consumer demand for both local and organic may not be as clear-cut as it sounds. For instance, some research suggests that consumers aren't always sure what terms like "local" and "organic" mean. The term, "local," may, in fact, mean anything from within a close radius of the restaurant, to anywhere up to 300 or 400 miles away, depending on who you ask.

Organic also connotes some confusion. For instance, many consumers are not aware that there are actually government standards by which producers must abide if they use the term on labels.

The take-home on "local" and "organic" trend for QSRs

At the end of the day, just like the trend itself, restaurateurs who remain trustworthy and authentic about what they use and where it comes from will win out. After all, no matter how consumers define the terms or perceive the foods they describe, it's clear we are moving into a larger clean-eating trend that extends beyond understanding food sources and toward a way of life.

The thing that consumers appear to be demanding is better information about how the food you're serving is prepared, portioned and consumed. They want to know what the ingredients are and where they come from, as well as what your restaurant or chain's total effect on the environment — from source to disposal — really is.

Panera has led in this movement toward clean food and clean eating with initiatives like its 2015 launch of the "transparent" menu. More recently, the chain introduced its clean soup offerings and supporting campaign in a nod to this trend. And Panera has been rewarded for its efforts, by becoming one of the leading fast casual chains, at least according to Technomic's latest survey. Likewie, QSRs that include these foods on their menus have seen sales and brand equity increase,too.

Elevation Burger, for instance, has a customer base that is 60 percent female in an industry where men typically purchase more fast food than women. And, California-based Tender Greens, has built a loyal following of customers by offering fresh-picked, local produce and even experimenting with aeroponic towers of vegetables grown right in its restaurants. The fact that the brand is expected to expand to New York City in the near future gives testament to its ongoing success.

So the bottom line is that we can all expect to see more organic and local menu offerings among QSRs as we move forward. It's being proven to be a great tactic to not only attract new customers but cater to the evolving preferences of existing and even former customers. This trend will only be strengthened in the future by the growing emphasis now being placed on food safety, transparency and sustainability.


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Food Allergies / Gluten-free, Food & Beverage, Food Safety, Food Trucks, Health & Nutrition, Hot Products, Marketing, On the Menu, Operations Management, Safety, Social Responsibility, Sustainability, Trends / Statistics

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