WHEN IT comes to ethics, consumers have lots of questions and foodservice companies have a lot to answer for, says Dan Crossley.
“Does it really matter if people leave their ethics behind when they eat out? I think it does. Eating out is one of the trends most profoundly affecting the food system. In the UK people spend almost as much on eating out as on eating at home.
And yet it’s an industry that consumers know very little about. There is still a distinct lack of information on menus about nutrition or provenance, and foodservice – on the whole – lags behind grocers in tackling environmental and social problems.
Let me put it another way. If the menu explained that the fish in your fish and chips was in danger of becoming extinct, would you order it? If the kebab-shop owner told you he wasn’t sure what meat went into the kebab mix, would you still devour it quite so voraciously? And would you still order your pizza if you could see the conditions that migrant tomato growers face in Spain?
I’m guessing probably not. Despite the fantastic examples of a few contract caterers, takeaways and restaurants, there is very little transparency and accountability in the foodservice industry.
What does this mean for foodservice businesses? Quite simply, you have to take responsible decisions on behalf of your customers and offer them a better set of choices. Predict what your customers might want to know and ask questions of your suppliers. Choose the more responsible options and then enable and encourage your customers to buy fairer, greener, healthier food.
I understand that it’s not easy to get to grips with all the ethical issues – but there is lots of help out there for you.
Once you’ve got moving down that route, it’s better to resist the urge to shove all your (in some cases) newfound ethical credentials down customers’ throats immediately. People respond to stories – if you can tell your customers about where your products come from, it connects them with where and how their food has been produced.
Follow this “discovery” model and reveal one layer at a time, rather than stripping yourselves bare (figuratively) straight away. Leave your customers wanting to know more.
You might argue that consumers don’t want to have to think about all that when they’re having a (supposedly relaxing) meal out. I’d respond that people do want to know where their food comes from. There is growing evidence of new consumer literacy about sustainability. Getting ahead of the curve can be good for business and good for the food system. If enough people are encouraged to ask questions about the food on their plate, and more people support establishments that are trying to do the right thing, it will encourage even more foodservice outlets to be transparent and accountable, and accelerate the shift to more ethical eating out.
Tasty food that is also healthy, responsibly sourced, high animal welfare and go”od value for money: what’s not to like? Enable your customers to eat ethically and leave a good taste in everyone’s mouth.
Dan Crossley is executive director at the Food Ethics Council