US Foods Tackles Sustainability Yet Again with Scoop Product Line
Since launching with 24 products in 2016, US Foods has expanded its Serve Good program to more than 300 offerings across a myriad of categories: seafood, organic, non-GMO, animal care, responsible disposables or waste reduction, and more. This fact doesn’t come as a surprise to your typical independent restaurateur. Sourcing, sustainability, and the why behind the food we eat and serve has never been more prominent than it is today.
Datassential’s MenuTrends found that 67 percent of consumers would have a better impression of a restaurant that offers sustainable foods, and at least 80 percent of diners want to know more about their food source.
Before US Foods introduced this lineup in summer 2016, it surveyed operators and discovered that about 89 percent of millennials expressed stronger likelihood to buy from companies supporting solutions to specific social issues; 86 percent of millennial consumers wanted restaurants to be more transparent about menu items, about where the food is coming from, and how it’s harvested, as well as what sort of attributes the ingredients have.
Balanced side-by-side, US Foods recognized a reality many operators see in their everyday business: This truth about sustainability hasn’t ebbed whatsoever in recent years. If anything, it’s only strengthened. However, the issue remains a challenge independents face every time they look at their menus.
“They say that one way of identifying opportunity for innovation is when you see customers behaving oddly around something,” says Stacie Sopinka, US Foods’ SVP, innovation and quality.
Sopinka says US Foods noticed operators were compensating for a lack of viable options by buying products at retail, some they couldn’t find in the right size for their restaurants. This led to a very inconsistent supply and a complicated relationship with guests.
So US Foods did what it’s done with its seasonal Scoop lineups for years: It figured out a way to help the independent operator win in a marketplace often skewed to the biggest and most resource-heavy companies around.
The 2018 Spring Scoop is another iteration of the Serve Good program, and brings 26 additional products to the table. Many of the Serve Good products come with third-party certifications as well.
This time, US Foods introduced items across several categories in an effort to solve multiple challenges.
“We know that diners don’t change their ethics for what’s important to them, between foodservice and eating at home,” Sopkinka says. “So it felt like there was an opportunity there to provide an option to independent restaurants for products that were designed specifically for their needs—affordable, in the right-size packaging, and most importantly, products they could in turn highlight on their menus. And get the deserved accolades from their diners for supporting sustainability.”
One of the most difficult areas in this conversation involves seafood. Also according to Datassential, the term “sustainable” has increased more than 300 percent on seafood menus in the past decades. The order-and-trust fish customer has flitted out of the dynamic in a hurry. US Foods features two levels of sustainability in its seafood program.
One is the Progress Check initiative, which is specifically designed for the seafood category. It highlights vendors on the path toward achieving sustainable certifications requested to be part of the Serve Good program. It’s the company’s way of saying that this product has made the proper investments, but just hasn’t been certified yet—a process that typically takes several years for fisheries. “We track their progress and we’re transparent about that. It can be found on our website,” Sopinka says.
Additionally, this Spring Scoop features several seafood offerings that meet leading third-party certifications, such as Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP, and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Here are two:
- Harbor Banks Coho Salmon: Four-star BAP-certified, this salmon is fed fish protein combined with nutrient dense algae, so it produces more fish protein than it uses while retaining top-quality flavor, texture and nutrition.
- Harbor Banks Yellowfin Tuna Loin: MSC-certified, sashimi grade, ready to cut and serve with minimal prep required.
“[Seafood] is an area where I think the consumer has some skepticism around source and our goal always is to be transparent and provide as much information as possible around the product,” Sopinka says. “So wherever possible we tell the story behind the product as well. We find both our sellers and our customers really enjoy that and they share it with their customers in turn.”
When it comes to transparency, Datassential shows that more than half of consumers are concerned about GMOs within their food and beverages, while the term “organic” has grown on menus by 130 percent over the past 10 years. US Foods is rising to this challenge as well with the following products:
- Monarch Non-GMO Ripened Sliced Sweet Plantains: Non-GMO Project Verified plantains imported from Ecuador that can be fried, pan-seared or baked.
- Metro Deli All Natural Prosciutto Raised Without Antibiotics: An artisanal prosciutto made with only pork and Nova Scotian coarse salt and aged for nine months according to centuries-old Italian techniques. Perfect for charcuterie boards, sandwiches, salads, and pizzas.
- Cross Valley Farms Organic Fingerling Potato Blend: This first-to-market, versatile Fingerling Potato Blend is USDA-Certified Organic and includes colorful yellow, red and purple potatoes.
US Foods also expanded this to drinks and desserts.
- Devonshire Premium Banana Chocolate Swirl Cake Made with Rainforest Alliance Certified Bananas and Fair Trade Certified Chocolate: Inspired by a Minnesota State Fair award-winning recipe, this cake is made with Fair Trade Certified semisweet chocolate and cocoa powder from Callebaut, Fair Trade Certified granulated and powdered sugar and Rainforest Alliance Certified banana purée.
- Rituals Moroccan Mint Iced Tea with Rainforest Alliance Certified Green Tea: No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Made from mint grown in Oregon, the tea is infused with spearmint, lemongrass and peppermint.
- Monogram Sustainable Cutlery Kit: A kit featuring a napkin and cutlery that are Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)-certified compostable. The napkin and band are also Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified. This is a time-saving product that is ideal for to-go orders, catering, delivery, and outdoor dining occasions.
The cutlery kit has been flying off the line, Sopinka says. This speaks to a broader, longer-term investment US Foods made in the packaging realm.
Sopinka says foodservice is lagging retail when it comes to paying attention to the standards attributed to the materials carrying the goods. US Foods has a team it calls its “Packaging Science Team” within product development to get ahead of the curve.
Serve Good has its own strict packaging policy. There are even times when a sustainable product is left off consideration because of its packaging.
The three basic premises are: increased percentage of post consumer material; recyclability; and less packaging overall. And all are third-party certified.
“We’ve taken the high road on packaging. And it hasn’t been easy, to be frank,” Sopinka says. “But we do find that it’s really resonating, potentially more with some of our healthcare and university customers, but we feel it’s just a matter of time before independent restaurateurs as well also start thinking more about how to reduce packaging.”
This is something chains are scrambling with currently in the off-premise boon. Many independents face this as well, and more are likely to join in due course as younger customers drive the take-out and delivery equation even further.
Sopinka also highlights the Rituals Moroccan Mint Iced Tea with Rainforest Alliance Certified Green Tea. This product has the potential to help level the playing field a bit as well. Many craft beverage brands, like Starbucks for example, can drive up the price of teas and coffees due to their overwhelming buying power.
“We can virtually give our operators a product that is pennies a glass in food cost and relative to coffee chains that are selling it for $4 or $5,” Sopinka says. “To me this is a great way to find a sustainable product that’s delicious and it also gives our independent restaurateurs a competitive edge. It’s an on-trend ingredient and it’s also something the public is aware of and is looking for.”
Lastly, the Spring Scoop features a new partnership with BentoBox designed to help independents attract customers via mobile-ready and functional websites. US Foods customers are eligible for exclusive discounts and support from BentoBox.
“It’s said that a restaurant’s website is its new front door. It’s so important that restaurateurs have a functional, attractive website,” she says. “And BentoBox brings that capability to our customers to have that professional quality website with all the expertise from the industry built into it. They don’t have to figure it out on their own.”