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More Diners Seek Local, Sustainable Restaurants

More Diners Seek Local, Sustainable Restaurants

Saving local businesses has become something of a battle cry for many Americans. And independent restaurants—especially those that feature locally sourced, sustainable ingredients—stand to benefit from this trend, according to several recent studies.

A new survey from American Express Open found that 93 percent of consumers make it a priority to support local small businesses they value in their community. Several factors seem to be at work here: burnout over the media focus on global news; hunkering down as a way to deal with a tough economy; a need to feel more like a community member; and a desire to make a difference.

A local business is more tangible,” Holly Moore, senior v.p. at The Futures Company told American Express. “In an economic downturn, ‘my world’ becomes more dominant and consumers are retrenching. It’s really human nature. When you feel under siege, you want to protect me and mine.”

Some 89 percent of those surveyed by American Express Open say they are aware of the impact local spending has on their local economy—a ripe opportunity for locally based restaurants to stress their community ties and to themselves support local food and beverage producers.

While consumers say they want to support local and sustainable producers, whether consumers are ready to pay a premium for their products is yet to be determined. A Mintel report shows that just over half (57 percent) of respondents say they are willing to pay more. And even then, the majority are only willing to pay 1%-5% more.

Menu selection remains the biggest factor in choosing a restaurant, according to Mintel. Three quarters of patrons base their decision on that, followed by pricing (69 percent) and convenient location (67 percent). Local/organic and sustainable ingredients were mentioned by only seven percent of those surveyed.

How much your guests care about local/sustainable ingredients depends mainly on two things: age and geography. Younger respondents in the Mintel study were more likely to be concerned about local ingredients, as were those living in the West.

Any restaurant seeking to be a responsible community member should consider yet another environmental hot button for restaurant patrons: food waste. A report from Unilever Food Solutions notes that nearly 80 percent of U.S. restaurant customers surveyed express concern about the amount of food that units throw away every day. According to the Green restaurant Association, food waste comprises about half of a restaurant’s total waste and represents the largest component of landfills.

“Small, incremental steps can result in big differences, and we need to do more than simply spark debate about this topic,” says Steve Jilleba, Unilever’s executive chef. “As an industry, we need to look at stock management, menu flexibility, portion sizes and many other elements involved in the journey from farm to fork in order to be able to begin tackling this problem.”