All Articles Food Restaurant and Foodservice Sustainable beef stirs up interest among chefs and consumers

Sustainable beef stirs up interest among chefs and consumers

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Image: ThinkStock)

Each year, the Conserve team develops sustainability education sessions for the NRA Show in Chicago, where approximately 63,000 foodservice professionals meet to talk business.

To help them better understand the industry landscape, we search for interesting topics that engage and educate. This year, one of those is the sourcing of sustainable and locally produced beef.

It’s a topic that’s extremely popular with both chefs and consumers.

One look at our What’s Hot report on culinary trends for 2016 bears that out.

According to the nearly 1,200 chefs surveyed for the What’s Hot report, locally sourced meats and seafood was the No. 1 menu trend for the fourth year in a row. NRA consumer research shows that restaurant guests are interested too: According to the NRA’s 2016 Restaurant Industry Forecast, 68% of consumers say they’re more likely to visit a restaurant serving locally sourced items than one that doesn’t.

Does sustainable meat cost more?

Unsurprisingly, sustainable beef — roughly defined as beef that’s produced with less impact on the environment — can be more expensive to buy. For example, grass-fed beef costs more than traditional beef because of the longer time it takes to grow and care for the animal, usually a full year. In addition, grass-fed animals tend to be smaller than grain-fed ones, so there’s less meat per animal. That also raises the price. And if you are also thinking of buying organic meat, you have to consider the added cost of organic certification and restrictions on animal feed, which adds to the final cost of the beef.

Elevation explains how it offsets its costs

There are ways to offset some of the added costs, said Michael Berger, founding partner and vice president of supply chain at Elevation Burger, who says the 60-unit fast-casual chain pays an extra 25% to 50% for the organic, local beef and proteins it purchases. To compensate for this added cost, the chain is extra mindful of its other food purchases and practices efficient operating procedures. “This helps keep our overall costs in line with the fast-casual industry,” he said, noting that buying organic beef adds about 50 cents to Elevation’s average $10 to $12 guest check.

What should you consider when sourcing sustainable, local beef?

Consider some advice from Elevation’s Berger, who will speak at the NRA Show:

  • Know what you want to buy. Know what your customers want and go with that option at a reasonable price.
  • Really understand the where and how. Depending upon your location, sustainable beef can be challenging to procure. Talk with farmers, butchers and suppliers and make sure they understand what you’re looking for. They must be able to offer a steady supply going forward. It’s typically best to start small with one or two menu items and add on.
  • Talk to your guests. See if switching your beef supply resonates with them. Alternatively, see if there are other items that are less challenging to source locally — but equally (or more) pleasing to guests. After you get their opinions, publicize your efforts on your menu.

Get more info on sourcing your beef

If you have questions about local and sustainable beef, attend our Conserve panel “Where’s the Beef: Eco-Protein Trends Explained,” at the 2016 NRA Show in Chicago, May 23, at 10 a.m. in room S402b.


If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s email list for more stories about the food and beverage industry. We offer 14 newsletters covering the industry from restaurants to food manufacturing.