Save Food, Make Money

How reducing food waste is good for the system and even better for your bottom line.

Illustration of half-eaten apple, bread, broccoli, chicken leg and fish bones going into a green bin.
The benefits of going green can include a whole different kind of green. / Copyright: Manop Jankan

Just because the pandemic erased food waste from the conversation doesn’t mean the issue isn’t as pressing as ever. According to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, an average of 84 percent of unused food in restaurant kitchens ends up in the trash. That figure means a staggering $2 billion in lost profits for eateries each year. That’s a formidable number, especially as operators across the nation struggle to keep their doors open.

But there is some good news: Reducing food waste and saving money go hand in hand—with the added benefit of positive PR. To wit, a study by Unilever highlights that 72 percent of U.S. diners are interested in how restaurants respond to food waste. Even better, 47 percent would spend more at a restaurant with an active food recovery program. “You’re increasing the value of your restaurant to customers who seek out environmentally friendly establishments, while [also] saving money and increasing your profit margins,” says Mark Prudence, brand ambassador at FoodMaven, a Denver-based supplier of imperfect and oversupplied food. Below are four tips to simultaneously reduce food waste, benefit the environment, and increase your restaurant’s profits. 

Tip 1: Mindful Buying 

Rather than automatically placing your same order week after week, take advantage of less expensive products that are labeled oversupply or imperfect. This will, of course, reduce food cost for the week, but it will also reduce the amount of perfectly good ingredients that end up in landfills. (According to Prudence, in 2020 alone, FoodMaven customers diverted 813 tons of food from landfills and saved a total of $1,807,542 compared to market price, just by making a conscious effort to purchase these products.) 

Illustration of lemon tree with many ripe lemons and green leaves.
You don’t need picture-perfect lemons for delicious drinks and dishes. / Copyright: rdesign0209

Oversupply products are the definition of turning lemons into lemonade. They are the same items you’re used to getting, just at a discount because of changes in market demand or other customers backing out of an order. Additionally, purchasing high-quality ingredients that are oddly shaped, are past their “best-by” date (but are still good), or have a packaging misprint is an easy way to save. You’ll be doing good without any sacrifice in quality or changes to menu prices.

The best way to maximize this approach: Talk to local distributors and farmers about oversupply or imperfect products. 

Tip 2: Flexible Menu 

Of course a flexible menu allows you to cook to the seasons and be creative, but it also allows you to shop based on deals. By keeping your eyes open for sales, you can use highly discounted, imperfect carrots for a soup du jour or oversupply rib-eye for a weekly special. Not only will you be able to take advantage of low prices on products that would otherwise go to waste, but you’ll also entice guests to keep coming back for something new. Beasts and Brews, a scratch kitchen and butcher shop located in Colorado Springs, works with FoodMaven to access deals it can’t find elsewhere. “Being able to purchase oversupply and imperfect ingredients allows me to offer fun and exciting food to our customers at an affordable and approachable price. We’re not a fine-dining restaurant, but we’re able to offer higher-end food by shopping and having access to these products,” says chef Noah Siebenaller. These choices nab tangible results: When every cent was counted, Siebenaller saved the restaurant $6,085 in purchases last year.

Illustration of wok flipping chiles, mushrooms, and tomatoes.
Save scraps to create flavor. / Copyright: Alena Semenova

Tip 3: Food Scraps to the Rescue

See how far you can stretch your scraps and watch your dollar go even further. Maybe you already make your own chicken stock or practice root-to-leaf cooking (carrot-top pesto!), but where are other areas you can incorporate scraps or leftovers? Think fresh juices, ravioli fillings, quick breads, crackers, and even cookies. In Denver, Sullivan Scrap Kitchen uses perfectly good scraps of leftover brisket to create smoky burgers. “Good cooking has always been about flavor,” says chef and owner Terence Rogers. “By using scraps, we are able to extract flavors in sauces, vinegars, syrups, and more. That [food] would have ended up in the trash or compost. Not only does it help reduce waste, but it allows us to put more flavor into our dishes.”

Tip 4: Take Action 

Create your own food waste audit by answering two questions:

  1. What gets thrown away most frequently? Is it green beans or avocados? Or is it milk or sliced meat? This answer could raise a whole set of questions or ideas around how much product you really need to be buying and how you prep.
  2. What always comes back on your customers’ plates? Is it a half-eaten pile of French fries or the new soup recipe? By cutting down on the portion size (fewer fries!) or even eliminating a dish that isn’t as popular as you hoped, you’ll save money and resources each week.

In the process, you’ll likely find yourself using every ingredient a little more thoughtfully. At Beasts and Brews, chef Siebenaller actively works to reduce waste and save money. “I find myself spending a lot of time in the dish pit observing what is left behind on a guest’s plate,” he says. “This allows me to identify if there is a particular item that our guests may not enjoy as much as others. It also allows me to determine if our portion sizes are too large or [if plates are] just being over portioned. By doing so, I’m able to coach our staff to help control waste and food cost.”

Ben Deda is the CEO of FoodMaven and oversees the operations of the company. Ben has held senior and executive leadership roles at Vertafore, Galvanize, FullContact, and TruStile in operations, sales, marketing, and support. Ben is also a co-founder and board member for Denver Startup Week, the largest free entrepreneurial event in North America. Ben has an MBA from the University of Denver and a BS of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.

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