Restaurants and the Organic, Sustainable and Local Food Shift

Photo courtesy of Don't Worry Get Healthy.

Photo courtesy of Don’t Worry Get Healthy.

Restaurants are largely missing out on our changing attitudes toward food, but there is hope.

“Local” and “sustainable” food may be attractive buzzwords in healthy living and culinary circles, but being conscious of what we eat and where it comes from is no passing trend. Health concerns, food-safety scares and increasing awareness of our impact on the world in which we live has prompted more people to turn to organic and locally grown food.

What started as a fringe movement has become a lifestyle for many. The problem is, many popular restaurants and food-service providers are missing out on a chance to cater to our shifting attitudes toward dining.

According to food industry research firm Technomic, more than half of consumers (59 percent) rate “socially responsible” as an important factor when deciding where they will eat out. Fifty-eight percent of diners seek out eateries that serves meat and poultry raised without hormones or steroids, while 45 percent look for free-range poultry and/or grass-fed beef options. Finding restaurants that offer natural and organic menu items is important to 41 percent of people.

But despite stepped up interest from consumers and more brands becoming socially responsible, researchers say many restaurants are still not communicating where food was grown or how it was sourced, things that are important to the growing legions of healthy food and environmental advocates.

Examination of the Technomic’s database of over 9,000 U.S. and international menus along with analysis of consumer opinions and use of 123 major food chains found that terms like “local,” “natural” and “gluten-free” remain rarely used in the restaurant business.

Even so, some promising facts were uncovered:


  • Over 9 percent of restaurants use “natural” when describing a menu item.
  • “Natural” menu incidence posted yearly growth of 7 percent, with a 20 percent increase on kids’ menus.
  • A&W Restaurants uses 100 percent all-natural Wisconsin white cheddar for their cheese curds.
  • A number of items featuring “all-natural chicken” are available at Corner Bakery.


  • The number of restaurants offering “sustainable” menu items has grown over 34 percent since 2011; sustainable menu items are up over 74 percent in that same period.
  • McDonald’s made a commitment to begin buying verified sustainable beef globally by 2016, and McDonald’s fish products have been certified sustainable since 2005.
  • Bruegger’s Bagels French Roast coffee is “Sourced From Rainforest Alliance Certified Farms And Is Sustainably Grown To Benefit Farm Families, Wildfire, And The Environment.”


  • Use of “organic” in menu descriptions, has grown 4 percent since 2011, with a 42 percent jump on kids’ menus in that same period.
  • Currently, nearly 18 percent of the top 500 U.S. restaurant chains offer an organic menu item.
  • Diners can select from a number of organic ingredients at Jason’s Deli, including organic wheat wraps, organic field greens, and organic blue corn chips.
  • Chipotle offers branded organic tofu in a number of new vegetarian entrées.

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About The Editors of Garden Variety

The Magazine-style Daily Lifestyle Blog of Gardening, Outdoor Spaces and Natural Living.
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