Local, Organic and Fresh

Many restaurants are incorporating organic, local foods into their menus and enjoying increased sales and positive feedback from customers. Why can’t this happen in your establishment? The most common resistance I hear is, “we’re not that kind of place,” “my customers won’t go for that fancy stuff,” or “local/organic ingredients are too expensive.” I used to say all of those things but, in fairness, I was never shown the value that making such changes could bring to my food cost, my restaurant’s reputation, and my top-line sales.

Adding local/organic menu items doesn’t have to be a wholesale white-washing of a restaurant’s menu. Because local/organic has become so popular, it’s perfectly acceptable to insert menu items featuring these ingredients anywhere you wish. Michael Ty, CEC, AAC, and ACF national president states, “locally sourced food and a focus on sustainability is not just popular among certain segments of consumers anymore; it has become more mainstream.”

Remember when a salad meant iceberg lettuce? now you can get organic spring green salads in vending machines! And, due to increased supply and acreage of U.S. organic growing (almost 5 million acres in 2008, according to the USDA) the prices are coming down. The door is now open to everyone!

Clean Food is Purely Profitable:
“But why, Chef? Why go through the trouble? Isn’t it more expensive to buy the organic chicken, the organic vegetables, or grass-fed, anti-biotic and hormone-free beef?” Sometimes. But remember: restaurants profit on the sale, not the purchase. Increased portion cost can be more than made up by a slight increase in menu price as the market is willing to make up the difference. The end result is increased profit dollars in your pocket for selling essentially the same dish. A pan-roasted chicken breast with some potatoes and vegetables would normally command 10-13 dollars, but a free-range, organic, pan-roasted chicken breast with organic, roasted vegetables can net 14-18 dollars.

I’ve even seen it sell for 25 dollars in Syracuse! Why? Because the market is happy to pay more for something they deem as healthy, sustainable, and better for the environment. Bottom line: the customer sees value in it, and we need to charge for that value. You can further increase profits by reducing the portion size of ingredients like Esposito’s grass-fed beef, Indian Ridge’s Pure Country Beef (see page 22 for products), or farm-raised/sustainable seafood from Hopkins and Indian Ridge. Smaller portions are already in vogue, so you can present a natural item without giving it an exorbitant price tag. Slightly more expensive proteins can share center stage with thoughtfully prepared vegetables. Creative veggie presentations are the new center of the plate, and they’re helping to take the sting out of some higher commodity prices this year.

Pure Country Profits:
Think you’re not in the business of selling farm-raised Baramundi and grass-fed Black Angus? Well, have I got a story for you! I introduced the fresh Indian Ridge Pure Country Black Angus 8 ounce Beef Patties to a restaurant in Syracuse. They wanted to make a change to their burger menu, were searching for a hook, but didn’t want to isolate their market. They rolled out the special antibiotic and hormone-free burger menu, increased menu prices by 33%, and sold out of burgers the first weekend. The burgers were essentially the same, but with the increased perceived value, the sale was automatic. When given the option of a cleaner, healthier burger, they didn’t even look twice. For the first time this pub menu was a legitimate profit center!

Introducing organic, local and sustainable menu items can mean better profits, but there’s an even stronger upside. Who doesn’t want more thoughtfully produced food that was raised in ecologically-conscientious ways? It’s not just a trend, but a shift in the way our business thinks about doing business.Customers are demanding these types of items and we need to keep them happy or they will go somewhere else to find them. We strongly encourage you to try some organic/local items and if you have questions, don’t hesitate to engage your Maines Culinary Team. We are here to help you navigate the organic waters – and to help you become more profitable in doing so.


By Chef Eamon Lee, CEC