Achieving chain transparency, farm-to-table in fast casual
Consumer preferences for healthy, nutritious food continue to drive trends in the food industry. The farm-to-table concept, which involves reducing the distance food travels before it arrives at the consumer's table, is an old but still relevant concept. Farm-to-table sources food through as few intermediaries as possible and uses ingredients in their freshest state.
Not only are consumers thrilled to have same-day harvests on their plates, they are increasingly drawn to brands that demonstrate sustainability and supply chain transparency. This presents several opportunities for food businesses.
One way the food industry has responded is by embracing hyper-local sourcing which, for two consecutive years, has been identified as the top culinary concept in the yearly What's Hot Culinary Forecast survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association. A combined number of 2,000 culinary professionals identified hyper-local foods and locally-sourced produce, meat and seafood as the big hits of 2017 and 2018.
Restaurants, in particular, have adopted specific strategies to make good on their promises of farm-to-table. These include:
Chefs take a look at the daily harvest of local farmers, and their findings inspire the menu. This often requires building relationships with farmers to stay in the loop during the harvest seasons.
To avoid imbalances in produce supply, a regular challenge with local sourcing, restaurants have turned to hydroponics for growing some of their major ingredients, especially vegetables. Hydroponics is the method of growing plants without soil by submerging plant roots in nutrient-rich water.
An article in QSR Magazine, The Next Big Sourcing Frontier, beamed the spotlight on Tender Greens, the Los Angeles-based fast casual, which grows its own butter lettuce hydroponically in a downtown warehouse. These fresh offerings are reported to be popular among their customers.
Safety is still paramount
Despite the popularity of locally-sourced foods, however, food safety remains a challenge. As pointed out in a Harvard Business School article, Food Safety Economics: The Cost of a Sick Customer, a shorter supply chain is not always easier to manage. Maintaining the supply of fresh produce requires sourcing from more suppliers, and this could further fragment the chain.
Sourcing safe food means ensuring that local suppliers maintain safety standards and use appropriate testing methods. By collaborating with local farmers and suppliers as well as organizing regular safety training on industry best practices, food businesses can reduce food safety incidents.
While implementing the farm to table concept can help a business win consumers over, it is important to invest in technology that makes it easier to produce, track and deliver safe, nutritious foods.
Cover photo: iStock