Cleaner Restaurant Cleaners on the Way
The ideal restaurant kitchen is a pristine, almost pastoral environment—gleaming vegetables, shimmering equipment and spotless surfaces—but anyone in the biz knows the reality is far different. Pests, toxins, contaminants and dirt all need to be kept at bay, so the bucolic kitchens of our imaginations are also home to a host of harsh chemicals that could pose a danger to food safety and employee health.
As more consumers look to more natural cleaners or even make their own do-it-yourself solutions at home, Aunt Fannie’s is looking to bring natural cleaners to institutional environments.
Seeing itself as part of the progressive food movement, CEO Mat Franken is currently moving the company from Greenville, South Carolina, to Portland, Oregon—a part of the country much more synonymous with words like “natural” and “organic.”
After first launching the company in 2013, Aunt Fannie’s landed a breakout hit with its non-toxic FlyPunch natural fruit fly elimination product that’s claimed to be significantly more effective than traditional solutions and is entirely safe to use around food.
“There’s definitely a trend,” Franken says of the rise of non-chemical cleaning products. “When you look at what’s happening with food and how there’s more awareness around the gut-brain connection, we believe this is the next stage.”
Beyond FlyPunch, Aunt Fannie’s has diversified its product portfolio to include a line of vinegar-based cleaners designed to reduce the characteristic vinegar stink, as well as commercial-grade products attracting the attention of large-scale restaurateurs.
One such company is Subway, which happens to be the largest restaurant chain on the planet. Earlier this year, Subway announced that a partnership with Aunt Fannie’s to give its franchisees a healthier line of cleaning products.
Announced at the same time as the peak of Chipotle’s food safety problems, the news marks a clear signal that Franken could be right about this as the next frontier, especially as big restaurant chains are more worried than ever about health scares or litigation.
“We are impressed by Aunt Fannie’s all natural ingredients and shared commitment to promoting and preserving health,” said Illya Berecz, executive director of the North American Association of Subway Franchisees. “Our dedication to serving fresh, quality food is our top priority.”
“These multi-unit restaurant chains are looking at ways to create a healthier environment for their customers and employees,” Franken said. “That’s one of the things we’re seeing time and time again, particularly in chef-driven enterprises.”
The press release announcing the Subway-Aunt Fannie’s partnership mentioned food-borne illnesses becoming more common with restaurants using fresher, more locally sourced ingredients. Asked about the connection to his business, Franken pointed to an increase in national-scale food recalls that he sees only increasing as more brands localize their supply chain.
“Large brands are taking notes, because they don't want to be in the headlines, see their revenue drop and they want to do what’s right,” he said. “These are the types of things that are really bring a company like ours to life.”
Franken said even though the announcement came during the peak of Chipotle’s crisis, Subway didn’t sign on as a direct response. He added that he hopes Subway moves to require more natural cleaners in the future, rather than just providing them to its franchisees as an alternative.
“It was more ironic than anything that Subway brought us on board in that timeframe, which allowed them to feel ahead of the curve,” he said. “They had always been proactively looking out for their customers and their employees, so it was reinforcing for them.”
While many cleaners like bleach and ammonia have been around for ages, Franken said some chemicals used in the restaurant space were originally developed as a World War II nerve agent, as one example, and can lead to serious consequences for employees that are exposed to them on a daily basis.
“Bleach is really at the top of the list and ammonia is right there behind it,” Franken said when asked about some of the worst chemicals used in restaurants. “You’re not supposed to keep your hands in contact with bleach, and that’s effectively what we’re doing by cleaning food safe surfaces with these toxic products—we’re ingesting poison.”
Rather than smelling like vinegar, Aunt Fannie’s Safe Near Food products are designed to smell like garden herbs or fruits. Without providing specific examples, he added that the cost differential is comparable to traditional cleaners.
“We don’t want there to be any type of cost hurdle involved,” he said. “We just want it to be available.”
Going forward, Franken said the company plans to introduce additional products in the future, and is expecting additional partnerships with other large-scale restaurant groups in the future.
“Those are huge opportunities for us as a company,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more people knocking on our doors.”
Aunt Fannie’s products are available directly from the company, or through foodservice distributors like Sysco or Performance Food Group.