Take a look at the garbage can in any foodservice operation, and you’ll see perfectly edible food that’s been tossed away: discarded ends of bread loaves, gnarled produce, broken clams, beet roots and more. If they could be repurposed as meal ingredients, they’d not only be saved from landfill, they’d become a profitable revenue stream for your menu. Reducing food waste is more important than ever. According to the USDA, food loss and waste in the United States accounts for approximately 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the overall food supply available to retailers and consumers.
Step one: Connect with growers
Minneapolis’ Common Roots Café, which describes itself as “a local, sustainable noshery,” starts its food waste reduction right where the food is grown. “We have individual conversations with our farmers about what they want to grow and market, and how we can help them make use of abundant harvests, so field waste can be avoided,” says John Pullis, Common Roots’ executive director. “The culinary staff is willing to buy foods that might not always be the prettiest, but because they haven’t been bred for long trips across the country, they make up for in taste what they lack in beauty.”
Managing a higher-cost inventory
With more than 85% of its products designated as local and/or organic, Common Roots’ food costs are a significant expense. “We pay an average of 35% more than the commodity market, so it’s a challenge to create dishes with a value proposition in line with other restaurants in the area,” Pullis says. “When ingredients cost as much as ours, we are scrupulous about using every bit of the food we buy.” The restaurant keeps a tight inventory, writes daily prep lists, and never preps more than a couple days’ worth of ingredients at a time. “It requires more labor, but the trade-off is that it helps us manage product and reduce waste,” he says. When waste does happen, Common Roots has a plan in place: “We compost everything, including scrapings from customers’ plates.”
But even with all these well-intentioned actions, Pullis understands the true bottom line: “If the food weren’t delicious, all this would be irrelevant. Customers do appreciate our story when they hear it, but they keep coming back for the great food.”
Check out these recipes for waste-conscious offerings that easily mask your vegetable imperfections: