Eco Efforts Are Part of the Nature’s Table Package
Nature's Table protein bowls in their new, compostable sugarcane and wheat straw fiber containers from World Centric.
“Without the meaning, we’re just selling a commodity.” That’s how Rich Wagner thinks about the eco-conscious efforts of his brand, Nature’s Table, which is nearing 70 locations and continues to work toward reducing its carbon footprint.
“We think our products and the meaning behind it is what we really stand for,” continued Wagner, president of the health-focused fast casual brand based in Orlando, Florida. Nature’s Table’s most recent undertaking, the rollout of compostable bowls, was years in the making and in April, the bowls made from sugarcane and wheat straw fiber, along with plant-based plastic lids, made their debut.
“We’d been looking at making a conversion to the bowls for years,” said Director of Operations Lisa Odom. “But the cost of those items has just been really tough, to have to pass that cost on to the consumer.”
Product quality was another barrier, as Nature’s Table needed a bowl sturdy enough to hold its protein bowls and soups. World Centric’s offerings solved both challenges—each bowl actually costs a penny less than the previous container—and the company’s broader mission was another positive. World Centric is focused on energy savings, as it makes three of its wheat-straw bowls using the same amount of energy it takes to produce just one foam version, and it donates 25 percent of profits to grassroots social and environmental organizations.
“We’ve been able to educate consumers and share the mission of World Centric as part of all this,” said Odom. “And our franchisees have embraced it. We tested the bowls at our company stores first and the response from customers was really positive. At one point we ran out of the compostable bowls and had to go back to the old ones and we heard from customers that they wanted the compostable bowl.”
Because the compostable bowl is smaller in size, Odom said Nature’s Table has had to contend with customer questions of portion size, as some perceived they were getting less food for the same price. Restaurant employees were kept in the loop during the transition so they could talk about the change with customers, and “We communicate really well through social media and our website so could share clearly what was going on,” said Odom.
Nature’s Table was already using compostable drink cups, napkins and tray liners, and Odom said the company is evaluating options for its plastic straws and utensils. The company also remains committed to its flexible footprint model: focusing on only opening new locations in preexisting buildings with an emphasis on non-traditional locations such as colleges, hospitals, office buildings, airports and gyms.
“We do a lot of what we call flips,” said Odom, turning over an existing space and in the process coordinating with local waste management facilities to ensure metal and other materials are separated and properly recycled. “We also retrofit lighting with LED, and now all new locations get LED lighting.”
High-efficiency HVAC systems, occupancy monitors and daylight sensors are other ways Nature’s Table works to lower its electricity use.
All of these efforts have become a natural extension of the Nature’s Table brand. “With a name like Nature’s Table, it’s kind of expected,” said Odom.