In December, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) released its What’s Hot in 2010 survey in conjunction with the American Culinary Federation (ACF), naming locally grown produce, locally sourced meats and seafood, and sustainability as the top trends to watch for this year.
The report underscored the fact that restaurant consumers are becoming more interested in knowing where their food is coming from.
“If you look at where the consumer is regarding the sourcing of food and the production of food, they have become much more riveted on learning about where their food comes from as well as the different production methods for that food,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the NRA.
As a response to the growing demand for this sourcing knowledge, two significant trends emerged within the restaurant industry: the use of local ingredients and the use of organic ingredients. Restaurants—and increasingly quick serves—are clamoring to include these ingredients in menu items to satisfy customers.
While chains explore local and organic and develop updated supply chains, questions remain over which is more cost effective, which is more sensible, and which customers prefer.Although both local and organic fall under the now-umbrella term “green,” the two sourcing strategies are different. Organic food is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and concerns how the food is grown and processed.
The definition of local food for restaurants is a little stickier, considering it is not something that is regulated. Local can mean the food comes from around the corner or across the state.
“Every company that you’re going to run into is going to have a different definition for local,” says Jamie Moore, director of sourcing and sustainability for Eat’n Park, a Pittsburgh-based concept with more than 75 locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Moore and others agree that the rule of thumb adopted for local ingredients is that they come from within a 150-mile radius. But perception of what local and organic ingredients are is half the battle for quick serves, which cater to customers who might not be educated on the matter and often confuse the green buzzwords.