How Fresh, Local Ingredients Benefit Your Customers and Your Restaurant
There are many reasons Italy is famous for its food culture.
It’s a place where meals are taken very seriously. There are no supermarkets where shoppers stock up on weeks worth of groceries. Instead there are many market stalls and specialty shops.
A bakery for oven-warm loaves of bread. A butcher’s shop for fresh cuts of meat. A market for the freshest-picked produce. A shopping trip every day to gather the simple ingredients that will go into that night’s meal.
Is your mouth watering? Italy is world famous for its fresh, rustic, and hearty meals made of simple, wholesome and local ingredients. A similar trend is taking the North American food world by storm.
No one knows it more than Paul Steck, president and CEO of Saladworks, a chain restaurant serving up customizable, entree-sized salads made with fresh ingredients.
“We’ve seen a real diversification of the American palate lately—they serve sushi in some high-school cafeterias now,” Steck told Entrepreneur magazine. “We’re always looking for new products, and our autumn seasonal salad is going to have roasted Brussels sprouts on it. Five years ago, if someone told me a cutting-edge salad place would be serving Brussels sprouts, I wouldn’t have believed them.”
Diners are going back to the basics, and that kind of local, clean cuisine is what they want. Restaurateurs need to follow that trend if they want to bring in the most customers. Diners are making it clear that yes, they do care about fresh ingredients. Here’s how to give them the clean, local flavors they’re asking for.
What is local? What is clean? What do diners really want?
Clean eating. Local ingredients. Farm to table. A lot of the buzzwords surrounding fresh ingredients can be confusing and misleading. What does it all mean, and what you should actually offer your customers?
Local ingredients are pretty straightforward: They’re ingredients and supplies that are sourced from your local area. There are a lot of ways to incorporate more local ingredients into your menu, from using local suppliers to even growing your own fruits and vegetables, like more and more restaurants are doing today. Local ingredients don’t need to be limited to produce, either. With a little legwork, restaurants can find local bakeries where they can source their bread, local dairies for their milk and cheese, or local ranches for fresh cuts of meat. They may even be able to find local honey, wine or beer.
For example, Toronto and GTA establishments are able to source local meats from suppliers like Leavoy Rowe who provide premium cuts of meat from Ontario farms.
Realistically, not everything your kitchen needs can be sourced locally in a cost-effective way. So how else can you give diners the freshness they’re looking for?
Those statistics make it pretty clear what restaurants need to do to entice health-conscious guests: Strike a balance between making dining convenient, while still offering fresh, healthy meals. Local ingredients are great when they can be found and used, but more important is keeping things simple. Think about how our grandparents used to cook, before processed foods were as widespread as they are now. That simple style of cooking is having a renaissance, and it’s what your customers want.
How to clean up your menu
Looking to add some fresher offerings to your menu? Here’s what you can do.
First, try to source as many local ingredients as you can. Again, this doesn’t have to be limited to produce. You can look for local meats, cheeses, wines, or fish, if you’re near water.
Next, consider your food storage procedures. If you have foods or ingredients that spend weeks or months in a freezer, they’re not fresh. Think about how often your menu items are ordered and purchase fresh products on a more frequent basis to meet your diners demands.
The next step? Think about additives that are in your food or ingredients. Instead of artificial sweeteners, look for more natural replacements like honey, maple syrup or agave. Instead of dumping tons of spices and seasonings, use fresh herbs and other fresh ingredients that compliment each other and allow their natural flavors to carry your dishes.
You can also take stock of what kinds of processed ingredients and items you use in your kitchen. Instead of frozen French fries, try your own fresh-cut fries instead. Don’t by bread loaves from a factory supplier — get bread from a local bakery or make your own in-house.
Do some research. Take a look at what’s in season in your local area and plan new specials or menu items seasonally. If you live in Ontario and have pineapples on your menu year-round chances are, both your bottom line and the taste of your dish will suffer on a cyclical basis.
For current ChefHero customers, we’ve got the first step of your research down. Take a look at what’s in season in your areas:
Finally, look for a certain level of freshness and quality from wherever you get your ingredients. Maybe it isn’t possible to source all your produce locally, but when you do need to have items shipped in, get them from a vendor who has a reputation for supplying quality products. Look for meat and dairy that’s raised and farmed ethically, without hormones or antibiotics. These versions may cost more, but chances are, your customers are willing to pay the difference (more on that in a minute).
Will customers actually pay the higher prices for clean eats?
Yes! 43 percent of American consumers say they’re willing to pay more for fresh, natural food items. Plus, giving your guests something that’s so on trend provides some opportunities for you to market your restaurant and gain some new customers.
Using fresh, local ingredients makes your menu items way more marketable. Think about it: Seeing words like “organic,” “farm fresh” and “locally grown” make a menu item sound much more appealing, right? You’re more likely to order those items because they just sound better. Throw some of those terms up on your social media with some mouth-watering photos of your freshest dishes, and you’ll have a line out the door of health-conscious diners.
Another way you can use fresh ingredients to amp up your sales is by offering seasonal menus and specials. Not only does highlighting seasonal and locally sourced items save on food cost, it also gives your chef the ability to get creative and offer daily specials that you can advertise on social media.
Since guests are often willing to pay more for clean ingredients, by making an effort to give your customers the fresh flavors they want, you’re likely to boost your own bottom line. But that’s not the only opportunity for you to up your profits. Local farms can’t compete with wholesale food vendors, sure, but that doesn’t mean their prices are that much higher. You can pass on the higher cost to your customers, plus maybe a little extra, since they’re willing to pay for those ingredients. Fresh, local meals can become your menu items with the highest net profit. It’s just another way you can give your guests what they want while also earning more money for your restaurant. That’s a win-win.
It’s pretty clear that diners do care about fresh ingredients — a lot. If you see this as an opportunity, you can use this trend to offer better quality food while also scoring benefits for your restaurant, like better marketing opportunities and higher profits.