The Local Message is International

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel called "A Short Course on the Food Service Industry: Successful Change Through Knowing Your Business Partner" at the Annual Meeting of the Community Food Security Council in Vancouver, BC. My co-presenters included John Turenne of Sustainable Food Systems, Josh Balk of the Humane Society of the United States and Mike Schreiner of Local Flavour Plus.

John started the session with a great overview of how purchasing works in large food service companies. The audience was made up primarily of farm to school advocates so hearing the interworkings of large companies was eye-opening. The biggest take away was that most major companies "score" their unit managers on something called "compliance." Purchasing compliance means buying products that fit into contracts negotiated by a central purchasing agent. Emphasis on this measurement can be a barrier to garnering enthusiasm for purchasing from local suppliers that aren’t contracted by the central purchaser. (Note: At Bon Appetit, we encourage our chefs to source at least 20% of products from local producers regardless of contract status).

Josh then told the group of the incredible success HSUS has had with their cage-free egg campaign. They have converted over 500 grocery stores, 100 colleges and Ben & Jerry’s (representing 100 million eggs annually) to cage-free. Bon Appetit also worked with HSUS to develop our own cage-free egg policy. He had great advice on proven techniques to sway and influence food service companies in a positive way. His biggest advice – celebrate incremental change. It’s not all or nothing. And, be nice – build positive relationships.

Mike’s organization approaches the issues by working directly with the institution rather than the food service company. He aided the University of Toronto to implement local purchasing at all of their venues regardless of who ran them. That meant working with contract companies, local restaurants and the University itself. He echoed Josh’s comments about starting with small change and working towards a greater goal.

I ended the panel with a description of some the "hiccups" and road bumps Bon Appetit has encountered on our path towards sustainability. For example, when we converted to cage-free eggs, we thought the tough part would be sourcing enough eggs for our high volume operations. In truth, the harder piece has been keeping cage-free eggs available to low volume accounts that can’t meet the distributors’ minimums. My message, doing the right thing is complicated (now, that’s an understatement).

After the session I was approached by many people thanking us for our honesty and frankness. I think we met our goal – to educate advocates so they can better work with their partner food companies.

– Maisie Ganzler, Director of Communications & Strategic Initiatives