Farm to fork


The farm-to-table movement has been growing for some time, as attitudes shift around sustainability, seasonality, food safety, and freshness.

F&B operators, particularly casual dining and café outlets in more advanced markets, are looking to capitalise on this movement as food production shifts to become better for people, profit and the planet. The principles of the farm-to-table movement that are especially relevant to F&B operators include the proximity of provenance, sustainability in food production and a focus on digital.

Proximity of provenance is the preference for the restaurant’s supply chain being close by. For example, Flat Iron, the casual dining operator, has a butchery and ale-maturing fridge in its Covent Garden store. Honest Burger also recently opened its first butchery. As well as reducing the environmental impact of transporting ingredients, the restaurant gains control over its ingredients.

Sweetgreen, the American salad chain founded with a mission to `inspire healthy communities', is credited as bringing the farm-to-table trend to casual dining in the US. One of Sweetgreen's main innovations is around a supply chain that partners with local farmers across the country. Twelve years since launching, its ethos, centred on making `simple, seasonal healthy food’, has contributed to its `unicorn’ status (a valuation of over one billion dollars) having raised $365m from outside investors. Sweetgreen has 91 stores, a third of which were opened in the last two years.

Sustainability relates to reducing ways in which food production adversely impacts the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This includes innovations around compostable fibre bowls and the banning of single-use plastics, such as straws in Pizza Express and Pret A Manger, to catering for plant-based diets and reductions in meat-usage.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, the casual dining chain, was launched 25 years ago with a focus on fast food made with locally sourced, non-GMO ingredients. It now has c.2,500 locations worldwide and this year launched their `Aluminaries Project', a seventh-month long accelerator programme to invest in the future of ‘food with integrity'. One of their ventures includes American Ostrich Farms, a vertically integrated producer that strives to increase awareness of the resource intensity of food so consumers can make enlightened, healthy choices. Ostrich tastes like `a delicious, lean filet mignon, but leaves a fraction of the environmental footprint – a third of the fresh water, one fiftieth of the land and emits less than one tenth of the GHGs per pound producer – compared to beef'.

Lastly, as operators recognise the channel shifts of their consumers, a digital-first agenda is paramount for everything from customer convenience to demand planning. Sweetgreen’s strong digital footprint, including a mobile payments app that has had over 1 million downloads, contributes to the fact that half of orders are placed online. While digital orders at Chipotle accounted for c.11% of overall sales in 2018. Moving beyond this, Sweetgreen is investing in blockchain-based technology to allow its customers to trace a salad’s ingredients back to the exact farms where they were grown.

F&B operators can focus on the local provenance of their supply chain, improve the sustainability of their procurement, and emphasise digital presence to shift food production to become better for people, their profits and the planet.

Samuel Gebreselassie