Attendees at the 2007 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show will have a special opportunity this year to look at ways of making their operations more eco-friendly.
The 2007 Show, held May 19-22, 2007, at McCormick Place in Chicago, will feature an expanded area of the exhibit floor: The Green Restaurant Products Pavilion. The pavilion will highlight the growing interest among restaurateurs to conserve natural resources while boosting their bottom lines.
"Sustainability and conservation are among the fastest growing trends in the restaurant industry today, and the 2007 Show is ahead of the curve," said William C. Anton, FMP, convention chairman for the 2007 Show, and chairman and founder of Anton Airfood Inc.
"Many of our more than 2,000 exhibitors offer products that conserve energy and water, supplies made of recycled or eco-friendly materials, and services that help restaurateurs fit sustainability practices into their operations," he said. "Developing environmentally friendly practices is good for the industry, good for consumers, and good for the country, and the 2007 Show is the perfect place to start."
According to Association research, the nation's 935,000 restaurants are increasing their environmental efforts. More than three out of four restaurants purchase products made from recycled materials.
In addition, many restaurants recycle fats, oils, grease, paper, aluminum and metal cans, glass, plastic and food waste. Tableservice restaurants particularly focus on paper, cans, glass, plastic and food, and more than two-thirds of quickservice operators recycle fats, oils and grease.
Riding the wave
When Texas-based Freebirds World Burrito decided in January to print menus on 100-percent recycled paper, the company was building on a pre-determined commitment to operate as an environmentally conscious restaurant.
Freebirds had already been using recycled napkin and paper products in its 16 Texas locations plus one in California, and the company's customers supported the effort through the creation and display of foil art — the shaping of animal and other art forms using recycled Freebirds' burrito foil.
Alan Hixon, Freebirds president and chief operating officer, said the company has always felt a commitment to protect the environment "even before it was cool."
"We're going to make an effort more than most, but my feeling is more and more people would do it if it were easy for them," he said. "We as a company feel we can do better."
Eateries across the board are touting eco-friendly and sustainable-farming labels in an effort to reach health-conscious consumers.
"Our commitment to natural and sustainable ingredients began about five years ago," said Chipotle Mexican Grill chief executive Steve Ells. "We are very proud of the tremendous progress we've achieved in promoting healthy, humane and sustainable farming practices and believe our efforts have positively impacted the nation's food supply."
About 55 percent of the chain's chicken is naturally raised, as is more than 40 percent of its beef. Additionally, the concept sells about 30 million pounds of grass-fed meat each year, more than any other restaurant chain. Ells said he hopes to eventually create an entire menu using only sustainable ingredients.
In March, Miami-based Burger King Inc. announced it had set a goal for 2 percent of its eggs to be "cage free," and for 10 percent of its pork to come from farms that don't confine pigs in crates. Around the same time, Chef Wolfgang Puck announced his Wolfgang Puck Cos. was formalizing a program that included sourcing the products used in his restaurants from purveyors who adhere treat their animals humanely and grow produce in a sustainable manner.
Now in its 88th year, the annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show is the largest single gathering of restaurant, foodservice and lodging professionals the Western Hemisphere. The Show attracts 2,000 exhibiting companies and 73,000 attendees and visitors from all 50 states and 110 countries. Free, online media registration and more information can be found on the show Web site at http://www.restaurant.org/show/media/.