Achieving true sustainability in a fast food supply chain takes careful planning and forethought, smart investments and ongoing attention to detail. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be an all or nothing affair.
What are the reasons that sustainability has now become a necessary investment for QSR? For one, younger consumers — Gen Xers, Millennials and Digital Natives in particular — demand it. Second, it’s more profitable over the long-term. And third, because ethical business practices are also best business practices.
That all adds up to mean that any steps taken toward making a QSR business more sustainable are positive steps. You don’t need to become carbon-neutral, zero waste and completely green in the next year. But you do need to show that you’re willing and able to make changes.
The dilemma: how do we balance available resources with necessary investment?
Achieving complete sustainability in a fast food supply chain isn’t cheap. And it’s not easy. There are many tasks to complete. You need to conduct feasibility research, explore available sources, rework logistic and distribution models, invest in additional research and development and then market those changes.
Seems daunting, doesn’t it? And how do you get all this done while running your day to day business and staying profitable? It’s best to tackle a sustainability initiative by breaking it down into manageable projects. How can you do that? That’s the easy part. Let’s take a look at 3 steps that can help fast food supply chain managers steer their businesses toward greener, more profitable, consumer-pleasing operations.
1. Write a sustainability checklist.
To achieve fully sustainable operations, what would your organization need to have in place? Think about the entire supply chain. Would you need organic, non-GMO ingredients? Would you need localized sourcing and distribution?
What questions would you want to ask your consumers? Do they want food choices that your chain isn’t currently offering? Are there long-term food trends or changing market conditions you need to address?
What cooking, serving, cleaning and maintenance practices would your QSR outlets need to adopt to become more green-friendly? What physical upgrades would need to be made to outlets to make them more energy-efficient?
Try to identify all the factors that would make a fast food company sustainable from top to bottom. Thereafter, the next step would be to…
2. Conduct an internal audit.
OK, so now you know what you would need to become fully sustainable. Now you need to know what pieces you already have in place and what your organization should address.
Conduct a review of your current suppliers. Determine their current and future capabilities for providing sustainable ingredients, paper goods, etc. Will they be able to meet your organization’s needs, or do you need to look for alternative suppliers?
Do the same with your logistics provider. Are they fuel-efficient and timely in their deliveries, or do they cost too much either in energy waste or food spoilage losses?
How about your restaurants? Do you need to invest in LED lighting or induction cooktops? What is the average amount of daily food waste per outlet? What can be done to reduce food waste? Are their community organizations that could use what you would otherwise throw away?
3. Pick one major area to focus efforts on. Repeat.
Don’t try to do everything at once. Break the process down into achievable steps and prioritize them by feasibility and cost-effectiveness. Work with other executives in your fast food organization to divide and conquer. Coordinate your efforts.
Make sure, too, that you share your successes and failures with the marketing and PR departments, so that they can keep consumers informed about your company’s sustainability journey. Modern consumers value honesty and transparency — in some cases more than price points.
Even a setback can become positive PR. As a case in point, look at the goodwill that Chipotle garnered for temporarily discontinuing its carnitas product when it found out that its supplier wasn’t living up to its commitment to provide cruelty-free pork.
A fast food supply chain doesn’t have to be immediately 100% sustainable. But showing consumers that your QSR organization is seriousabout eventually becoming fully sustainable could go a long way toward winning you a loyal following.