The ongoing discussion of sustainability in the restaurant space tends to put packaging at center stage. But big announcements from big brands in recent years around the sustainability of ingredients means culinary leaders have a new hat to wear.
Blaze Executive Chef Brad Kent takes that role seriously, and he said the concept backs sometimes difficult solutions when it comes to sustainability. But it means a better product for the consumer and the planet.
Read the Q&A with Kent below:
How do you think about sustainability in your role?
I think about sustainability with every decision I make for Blaze. Selecting products and choosing vendor partners always includes a deep dive understanding of their sourcing and company culture. At Blaze, we care deeply about the environment and make decisions on suppliers’ approaches toward protecting the planet and resources.
Walk me through sourcing your own yellow peppers.
Nothing natural existed in the market and all those that were available contained preservatives and artificial colors. I worked with a number of suppliers until one was willing to make the proposed natural product formulation and process changes to create a product that met our standards for quality and safety. This product is produced in the U.S. and uses raw materials farmed in North America.
How do you quantify the impact there?
Most pickled banana peppers are produced outside of the U.S. The carbon impact of shipping products across oceans is very high and we make strides whenever possible to source more locally.
Further, this product is all natural. So, when the pickling liquid is drained off the product, we are putting turmeric, salt and vinegar down the drain as opposed to the other products that would put sulfites, artificial yellow color and preservatives down in our water supply.
What did it take to get those going and keep those going?
All it took was asking the right questions, refusing to take “no” as an answer, and sticking to our standards for quality and eye on our environment as a priority.
What about packaging?
Blaze's pizza boxes are Forestry Initiative supporting. Every piece of cutlery or to-go containers in our restaurants is either made from recycled materials, recyclable or biodegradable. Our flour in the U.S. and Middle East is sourced from a partner that contributes a large amount of resources to regenerative agriculture and has in the past few years accomplished converting large acreages of U.S. farmland from conventional farming using multiple chemical inputs to minimal, all-natural agricultural inputs.
How about your giant containers of olive oil, what's the impact there?
This was a decision we forced into our distributor from location one of Blaze Pizza. It has since become a very important industry standard. We purchase single cultivar olive olive oil for our North American restaurants.
Not only is extra virgin olive oil a very sustainable product (cold processed, zero chemical inputs, non-GMO, all natural, low water agricultural product), but being packed in a bulk 20-liter bag in box package vastly reduces packing waste. The box is recyclable, shipping weight is drastically reduced and the quality of oil is retained much longer than the traditional can packaging.
How do you and Blaze think about the cost or complexity of these projects and what you can tackle?
Our focus is to make decisions that are good for people and our planet that also makes better pizzas. We hold up all decisions against these lens.
What is your best advice to replicate this across the industry?
Every restaurant should work directly with manufacturers and demand that distributors carry products that are better for people and the planet. Do not compromise.
The distribution/supply chain system in general is broken and as restaurants, we cannot simply accept their stocked products as products we use in restaurants. We need to demand better sourced and more mindful products to help fix that system.