Industry Trends

3 Ways Farm-to-Table Has Changed the Restaurant Industry

By Will Harmon

Menu on a table beside a dish garnished with leafy greens

The term “farm-to-table” has been around longer than you’d think. Its origins trace back to the progressive food pioneers of the late 60s and 70s, when organic and local food first became trendy. As more Americans flocked to major cities, however, local food became increasingly sparse, as processed foods took to grocery store shelves and Americans developed a taste for convenience over nutrition.

Foods high in fat, sugar, and sodium worked their way into the diets of most Americans behind the veil of effortless preparation. As the inevitable health and lifestyle consequences started to surface after several decades of poor diet, a new attitude came to fruition.

Less than 10 years ago, the first “superfoods” gained commercial popularity. Previously restricted to those circles of society who had always been mindful of nutrition, these superfoods found their way to rural neighborhoods and major cities. Forward-thinking cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Boulder, and New York City then started fostering an environment in which locally sourced produce could thrive.

The last decade has paved the way for chefs and restaurateurs alike to take advantage of locally sourcing and the farm-to-table movement. Agriculture, essential to providing patrons with sustainable and fresh produce, is a key driving factor behind the farm-to-table movement  

If you’re looking to see farm-to-table in action, businesses like Sweetgreen are a good start. The restaurant chain aims to offer customers more than a meal by leveraging farm-to-table both economically and efficiently. Every ingredient is marked with its source location and promotes nutrition every step of the way. Their goal? To drive their community’s efforts to support both health and convenience for future generations – a value your restaurant and Sweetgreen could share.

Let’s take a deeper look. Here are three ways the farm-to-table movement has been making waves in the restaurant industry and what they could mean for your restaurant.

It’s Giving a Platform to “the Little Guys”

Farm-to-table is creating headaches for large companies in the food and beverage industry, while providing opportunities for smaller business to capitalize on a new trend.  Consumers are opting to give their business to local food sources by frequenting restaurants who buy locally. In their quest for high-quality food, consumers are bypassing the major chains that have been a staple in recent years.  

For example, between 2009 and 2015, McDonald’s stock rose by 88%. During this same period, Chipotle’s stock rocketed up by more than 1,000%. Massive chains like McDonald’s rose to power due to their ability to offer cheap food with high margins. Now that consumers are willing to pay a premium for quality, the proposed value of the larger players is disappearing.  

The factors on which the market competes have switched from price to quality – a change that many players weren’t ready for. Restaurants that manage to offer high-quality goods are experiencing growth, while those still competing on price are struggling to keep their heads above water. This shift has affected everything from how restaurant operators make their bottom line to how they design their menu.  

It’s Changing Consumer Habits

One of the more noticeable impacts of farm-to-table is the way it’s changing consumers’ appetites. While the Great Recession played a major role in stagnating consumer buying habits, a handful of industries have made a major comeback. A recent study showed that millennials are spending 44% of their food dollars on eating out. Consumers are leaving the house more than ever before to chase the latest trends, helping bring the farm-to-table movement into full swing.

The farm-to-table movement actually consists of several health fads that rise and wane in popularity. One superfood will fall out of public grace only to have the next big thing – *cough* kale *cough* – take its place. Consumers hold a fair share of the purchasing power in the restaurant-customer relationship. The most progressive restaurants, who recognize these trends and alter their menus accordingly, will come out on top.

Restaurants are now able to raise awareness through their menus of the relationship between agricultural production, agricultural tech, and food quality. Today, order processing for many restaurants is less about slim margins and more about demonstrating value to their customers through various menu items. A little over a decade ago, this would have been a high-risk, low-reward strategy that most likely would have fallen short to the cost-efficient processed foods and additives.  

It’s Shedding Light on Food Quality

Food quality is a stable of the farm-to-table movement’s ability to change the restaurant industry. The spotlight is now on local suppliers who can decrease the distance between a restaurant and their produce. Short shipping routes on a local scale have opened the door for the transferring of high-quality goods that actually maintain their quality, as opposed to goods that risk spoilage when shipped over long distances.  

Food quality is where a lot of heavy lifting is required of chefs and restaurant operators. If they want to participate in the farm-to-table movement, they need to do their homework and discover which local food producers are available to them. On average, restaurants purchase from local farms for 20 weeks out of the year, or only 36%.  This means working with multiple suppliers throughout the year to meet procurement demand.

If a restaurateur can find the right strategy to introduce farm-to-table features into their menu throughout the year, they are putting themselves in an advantageous spot to capitalize on a trend that is driving consumers to dine out. The farm-to-table movement isn’t going anywhere, and if you can position your business to leverage its benefits, you can rest easy knowing it won’t go anywhere either.

Want to learn more about the industry’s latest food trends?

Photo of Will Harmon
by Will Harmon

Will Harmon is a marketing associate at BlueCart, an online and mobile ordering, inventory, and operations platform for the hospitality industry. When he’s not busy being a social media guru and creating content, you can find him learning about procurement practices and up-and-coming restaurant trends.

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