Communicating sustainability on your menu

New research from The Hartman Group on how restaurants can best communicate their sustainability to customers was presented during the 2012 Protein Innovation Summit hosted by HOTELS along with sister publications Meatingplace and Plate.

According to Hartman, using the term “local” gets a more positive reaction from most consumers than the term “organic” and the most important place for restaurants to communicate their sustainability credentials to consumers is on their menus.

“The most important of those words is local. That gives a distinct place and person behind ingredients. Organic has been usurped by local in terms of what consumers want,” said Tamara Barnett, Hartman’s director of strategic insights. “The menu is the primary information source for consumers and that is the place where it can live in various different places such as online.”

According to Hartman the term “wild” is a strong cue for seafood while “free-range” is strong cue for poultry and “grass-fed” a strong cue for beef.

Barnett stressed that restaurants should not over-communicate sustainability on their menus, such as for example providing disclaimers that some menu items may not be organic or providing descriptions for every single menu item. Instead, simply including a toponym in the item’s name can be more effective.

What do consumers want?

Looking at what attributes of a restaurant that consumers seek out in deciding where to eat, Hartman surveyed consumers’ interests and found that:

  • 85% desire for fresh food
  • 83% high product quality
  • 82% compliance with hygiene regulations
  • 74% use of local/seasonal fare when possible
  • 64% employees treated well with healthcare benefits
  • 62% cruelty-free meat