Green, sustainability, local…these are all buzzwords circling in consumers’ minds as they shop for food. According to a Burst Media poll of 1,500 adults, 60 percent are willing to pay more for eco-friendly, sustainable foods.
Green, sustainability, local…these are all buzzwords circling in consumers' minds as they shop for food. According to a Burst Media poll of 1,500 adults, 60 percent are willing to pay more for eco-friendly, sustainable foods.
By playing off the ecological responsibility angle, manufacturers also give consumers a reason to buy the product and justify the price. And a Mintel study found that 43 percent of U.S. consumers claim to buy local when possible.
However, this does not give companies a free pass to start making “green” claims. Along with this added consciousness of sustainability comes a healthy dose of consumer skepticism. A Mintel Oxygen study found that 25 percent of consumers are suspicious when a company claims to be green and 63 percent of them wonder if products really are green when a company claims they are.
What does this mean for bakers? Sustainability is something to bear in mind, and even small changes in a bakery, when presented honestly, can reap rewards in customer perception.
Christina Jessie, bakery sales manager, Market of Choice, Eugene, Ore., shares some of her efforts to go green in the in-store bakery and how her company communicates these efforts to consumers.
When did Market of Choice (MOC) begin implementing sustainable practices?
Market of Choice as a company has always strived to be sustainable. Each new program takes time to implement for it to work. We have been driven as much by our customers as by our own ideals.
Have customers demanded sustainable practices from the chain?
We take the time to talk to our customers, and our customers are open to share their ideals with us. The flexibility of being a family-owned chain allows us to respond quickly to customer requests.
What do MOC in-store bakeries do to achieve/maintain sustainability?
Buying local ingredients is the key. It's great to know when your butter is made, your wheat harvested and working with the producer to find the perfect ingredients.
For packaging, you have to know what is available and choose the best option for your area. For example, clamshells have been an issue. Do you go with PLA corn or PET plastic? Some areas have the facilities to wash and recycle the plastic and others do not have a program in place.
Even if you think you are recycling (separating out the plastics), the clamshells still get thrown into the landfill because the plastic cannot be cleaned enough to avoid contaminating the recycling batch. The PLA corn has drawbacks due to the amount of corn produced for ethanol, the strain on certain areas agriculturally and the fact if you do live in a community that can recycle the plastic food container, if the PLA gets in there it contaminates the recycled plastic.
However, if your community can't recycle then plastic food containers, like many areas, then corn is the only reasonable choice since it does break down in a landfill. Tough choices — all require you knowing your area's recycling program. It can vary county to county.
How have sustainable practices affected bakery production?
To avoid a huge disruption in production you have to set your goals. What are your priorities? Take one change at a time, whether it be packaging or ingredients. I try not to change too much at once. Your crew is able to adjust more quickly, and you are able to accomplish more.
We have eliminated metal baking pans and now bake in moulds that serve as the final packaging. This has reduced our energy usage because the products can be baked at a lower temperature. It also meant fewer pans to clean, which reduced our water usage and reduced the energy needed to produce hot water for washing.
What do MOC stores in general do to achieve/maintain sustainability?
We have great employees who care about their communities and we all work together to find opportunities to be a more sustainable company. We have regular discussions on what more we can do.
At MOC, we strive for sustainability by meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. At our Willamette store in Eugene, we increased the solar panel capacity in 2008 to capture three times the amount of energy. Also in 2008, we eliminated plastic bags in all of our stores and switched to sustainable paper sacks and reusable bags. In our Franklin store in Eugene, we've replaced all of our freezer lights with LED bulbs, resulting in a 60 percent reduction in freezer light energy usage, and we are rolling it out chain-wide. The company's Green Waste program has a goal to divert at least 75 percent of the compostable material from the stores away from the landfill. The Green Waste bins will allow the stores to increase the amount of material they are able to compost at a time.
How do you communicate this to your customers?
We use our website, special events, flyers, posters and verbal communication.
Do sustainable practices cost more? If so, how much more on average? Do you pass the cost on to customers?
With local ingredients, many times the cost is lower, but it varies. Having a scratch baking program helps us keep the costs down. Less travel time lowers shipping costs and our composting program has helped us reduce our garbage bill. Packaging is tricky at times. It will start out more expensive if it's a new item, but as more companies begin to use sustainable packaging, the costs go down. There have been very few times the price to our customers has been affected.
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Do your competitors also participate in sustainable practices and how do you differentiate the in-stores?
We do have competitors who share some of the same focus on sustainability.
Our chain differs in its focus on local vendors — both in locally produced ingredients and our support of small business. We use several local bakeries that bring in their products to sell. We help promote these small vendors with beautiful vendor spots in our Savories (bi-weekly) ad.
Our scratch baking program at each one of our locations is a unique difference that gives us greater flexibility to cater to our customers.
Do you think your location in the Pacific Northwest plays a role in MOC's sustainable mindset/practices?
I'm sure we are influenced greatly by the bounty here in the Northwest. There are so many wonderful ingredients grown locally here. With the beautiful mountains, ocean and valleys, it makes you want to take care of what we have.
What advice do you have for other in-store bakeries that may want to initiate some sustainable practices?
Set goals for what you want to accomplish, short and long term. Take each step one at a time. It isn't something that happens overnight. Do what you can at the moment, and look for ways to improve sustainability as you go.
How have sustainable practices evolved over the years?
I like a broader view of sustainability. It doesn't stop at packaging or ingredients. Are farmers where you get your wheat from being paid a fair wage for their work? What is the carbon footprint of your operation? Do you use solar power? These are big things. True sustainability is a whole bunch of small decisions made every day. Choosing a biodegradable package, turning off the lights if you don't need them, working with a small business even though they may not have all the signage you want. Sustainability is a journey; make the best-informed decision you can as you go along. It's about caring what impact your decisions as bakers, buyers and merchandisers have in your community. You may be more sustainable than you think.
Do you think sustainability/green practices are something that every in-store bakery can achieve?
I believe with corporate support, any chain can be sustainable. It's so fulfilling to be a part of a baking operation like this. Our customers show their appreciation with the loyalty they demonstrate by trusting us with their weddings and special events.
What is your history in the baking industry?
Baking has always been a part of my life. I grew up a child of a horticulturalist, and our one-acre backyard was filled with every variety of fruit and vegetable my dad could squeeze in. I learned much of what I know about baking from my mother and grandmother. We always had something tantalizing coming out of the oven. Eventually, I started as a cake decorator two days a week as a young mother and worked my way up, learning as I went. Market of Choice was a perfect place to broaden my knowledge of in-store baking.
How did you obtain your position as bakery sales manager for Market of Choice?
I became bakery sales manager as I helped develop systems to improve communication between our very talented staff members at each store. Merchandising and goal setting for our bakery departments all played a part as well. The company shares in my ideals for high quality products, customer service and sustainability, so it was a perfect fit.
What aspects of in-store baking do you find most rewarding? Most challenging?
The most rewarding aspect is the flexibility allowed to provide our customers with products custom made for them. It's great to work for a company that values your talents and takes care of its employees.
The most challenging thing for me is when you have a vision for a new product and the packaging options aren't out there quite yet. Or you find a perfect packaging item and the minimums are too high for what your chain can use. You have to be creative to work these situations out. Most vendors will help you if they can.
What do you see as the future of in-store baking?
Baking at the store level adds so much to your store — the aroma of hot brownies coming out of the oven is an irreplaceable asset. Making your grocery store a cozy place that customers are comfortable in.
Christina Jessie grew up baking alongside her grandmother and learned how to incorporate the many freshly grown fruits and vegetables from her father's garden. After marrying and starting a family, she began working as part-time cake decorator for Market of Choice, becoming full time in 2003. After working in the floral department for a year, she took a position as a bakery manager before being named bakery sales manager and overseeing all seven Market of Choice in-store bakeries.
MARKET OF CHOICE, Eugene, Ore., is a 30-year-old, family-operated supermarket chain with seven locations throughout western Oregon. The supermarket offers both conventional and organic products, and each location features an in-store bakery that bakes from scratch.