It’s not just consumers waiting for their Amazon purchases who feel the crunch of today’s supply chain chaos.
Restaurants have been running into obstacle after obstacle since March of 2020. And while it’s tempting to feel like the pandemic is over, for many restaurants and bars, that light at the end of the tunnel hasn’t turned on yet.
Effects of the pandemic are still felt by restaurant owners, and the world’s supply chain breakdown is just one more way that restaurants are having to prove their resilience.
Instead of getting frustrated about delays and the lack of what you want, let it inspire you to shorten your supply chain through localisation.
Yes, some ingredients and products can only come from other countries. But what about the imported items that are actually available closer to home, albeit sometimes at higher prices.
Shortening your restaurant’s supply chain encourages greater creativity and brings fewer risks of mishaps and food fraud.
This doesn’t mean that restaurants and bars have to step back into the self-sufficiency of the Middle Ages. But every restaurant, bistro, bar and cafe should consider the complexity that goes into importing from faraway places and think about how to buy more locally-produced products instead.
Why keep the supply chain as close to your restaurant as possible? Here are the top 8 reasons and a few examples from the new generation of restaurants focussing on local.
Local suppliers are typically more reactive than those who are farther away. They can deliver in-season ingredients quicker, and it’s much easier for you to coordinate a shipment from across your local region or country than around the globe.
The idea of increased flexibility by sourcing local may seem insane. What kind of flexibility can you have when you live in an area without access to the ingredients that you need?
But that’s where creativity comes in.
“(At Maaemo) we used only things from Norway, so we didn't use products like citrus and chocolates and olive oils and all this stuff you kind of get used to. Getting out of that mind frame was very inspiring for me. It's tough to actually come up with ideas or develop when you have too much.” – Jordan Bailey of Aimsir in Kildare, Ireland
When you look at any challenge (like an overly complicated supply chain) with creativity, you’ll see that the solution lies in you, not the pantry.
And if you’re worried about comprising flavour or the experience… think again.
“Often, we use rare ingredients, so even locals have no idea what they are. They're unique ingredients, really world-class type ingredients. So we like to share that with the guests. And I think that drives people's interest because they see these ingredients that they probably undervalued and see what we do with them, which is unique, fun, and delicious. We want them to feel thrilled.” – Riley Sanders of Canvas in Bangkok, Thailand
What does a shortened food supply chain look like? It looks like the seasons. It’s changing and evolving and never stagnant. And guests respond with reservations.
“We try to be in touch with the season as much as possible. We use what the farms have. We don’t ask for things or make things that are not in season. If one component of a dish is no longer peaking or available from our farmers, we don’t import it. We simply change or adapt the menu.
The menu is therefore a living and evolving thing, just like the season. We don’t have the same dish on the menu for half a year or not even 3 months. Of course, we also ferment, preserve and pickle to have ingredients for the winter. We buy only whole animals like ten lambs and half a cow from the slaughter. When they are gone they are gone. That’s the concept. I like to keep things moving. It’s more interesting for both me and the guest.” – Mikael Skvensson of Kontrast in Oslo, Norway
Going local and shortening your food supply chain provides you with increased food traceability. This is not only important to comply with food safety standards but also lets you offer peace of mind to your guests.
According to OSHA, most foodborne illnesses either start or expand within the food supply chain.
Restructuring your restaurant supply chain shortens the list of the who, what, where, and when of every ingredient in your kitchen.
The further away you are from the products you use, the less control you have over them. Suppliers and vendors may say that they treat all customers the same, but if they expect a visit or have a relationship with you, chances are they’ll keep you top of mind.
These face-to-face visits to the local market, the butcher, the bakery, and the farm allow you to address any concerns and ensure all ingredients and goods meet your standards.
“We've built up this very close network. I don't go to one single supplier and have them talk to the farmers. I speak to them myself. It's nice to have such a close relationship.
I find that having a relationship with your producers is vital, especially working at Maaemo; you learn that the more they feel involved in it, the better because they feel more invested within you and your restaurant.” – Jordan Bailey of Aimsir
“We have the seafood right here, which in my opinion is the best in the world. Getting in touch with the right suppliers and fishermen allows us to get fish straight from the sea. It simply doesn’t get better.” – Mikael Svensson of Michelin-starred Kontrast
Along with increased food traceability comes a decrease in food fraud.
Netflix highlighted the issue back in 2017 with their documentary “Rotten”. This year, Europol and INTERPOL removed more than 15,000 tonnes of illegal food and drink during OPSON 2020.
These illegal products not only impact the global food supply chain, but they’re also a major health risk to consumers.
Taking back control of your restaurant supply chain and knowing where your food comes from is the easiest way to end the problem.
Tightening your budget? Then you’ll be glad to know that tightening your supply chain is a great way to cut costs.
Take the skyrocketing cost of natural gas and the shortage of lorry drivers in the UK as an example of costs that you have to cover. And that’s just with land transportation.
In an effort to reduce climate change, the International Maritime Organisation (the group regulating all ships) has put a cap on sulfur emissions. What does that mean for you? Someone has to pay for the new equipment needed to reach their goals. Who do you think that is? The consumer – you.
You’re paying for more than just the actual product when your supply chain is complex.
Take blueberries as an example. From a farm in south Georgia, the berries are picked and sent to a packing and processing plant. From there, they travel to a holding facility before moving on to a distribution centre. Next, they journey either direct to a supermarket or wholesale provider before finally arriving at your restaurant.
Every step of that process has costs that get added to the actual price of the fruit. Now, imagine if you could contact that farmer directly and pick your own blueberries?
Many of the costs (even without you realising) are reduced by localising your supply chain. And, with less money dropped into the black hole of shipping logistics, there will be less holding down your bottom line.
Localising your restaurant supply chain doesn’t just help save money, it can also help you generate more revenue.
That’s because guests may side with your efforts to keep a local supply chain, which helps you attract new customers.
Promote your commitment to local sourcing through your marketing efforts. Restaurant guests are growing more and more concerned with local ingredients and your efforts can be your unique selling proposition – what your restaurant needs to stand out in the market.
If localising your restaurant supply chain increases your revenue, then it must also do the same for the farmers, fishermen and vendors in your area. That’s a huge boost to your local economy… and your reputation.
“When you support a local producer, you’re giving them the confidence to keep going, and you’re instilling a pride in ingredients and skill sets that are important to the culinary culture of the area.” – Christian Recomio formerly of Sitka in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
“At Gustu, we are showcasing Bolivia’s production, culture and biodiversity. We work with 100% Bolivian produce and by that seeking appreciation and recognition of the local produce as well as the people who produce.” – Bertil Levin Tøttenborg of Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia
“Our restaurant is tightly knit with local producers, using local ingredients. For the wild herbs, plants and mushrooms we have our own forager who regularly brings to the house whatever he picked that morning in the surrounding woods, meadows and marshes.
For the fish, our speciality is marble trout, the protected Slovenian species that has almost become extinct before the fishing family of Tolmin found one of the last colonies deep in the gorges of Soča River.
All the seafood comes from the fishing co-op of Marano Lagunare in Italy, an hour drive away where Ana has her own go-to fishermen that bring in whatever they catch that day. Beef and dairy products come from high mountain pastures above the valley and as for the goats, we use the protected Drežnica goat, the only Slovenian indigenous breed of goat.
We try to be self-sufficient with the vegetables that grow in our backyard garden, for all the rest we work with a network of local farmers.” – Hiša Franko in Kobarid, Slovenia
Localising your food supply chain helps the environment. When you reduce shipping and storage, you also reduce emissions and energy usage.
Think of the air miles that 1 gram of Iranian saffron logs. That journey isn’t doing the planet any favours.
Local sourcing not only contributes to a more sustainable future but ultimately helps build guest confidence.
When guests have confidence in your restaurant brand, your business benefits from brand awareness and customer loyalty. When your guests understand your mission, they’re more likely to stay with you.
When you source locally and have a lean restaurant supply chain, you’ll be able to create new items quicker than someone waiting on ingredients from another hemisphere.
With good relationships with local suppliers and creativity, you can resolve problems faster and launch new menu items to meet your guests’ wishes.
The global supply chain breakdown that COVID-19 started isn’t easy on any restaurant – even the ones that source locally – but those restaurants are ahead of the curve.
We know that not every restaurant has Bolivia’s produce to work with, but what can you do to shorten your supply chain?
Everything from the ingredients in your kitchen to the straws at the bar – take a minute and see what’s already in your area. Yes, the world’s supply chain will get up and running soon and everything will return to normal. But is that a good thing?
Maybe a change is exactly what’s needed.