What Factors Should Operators Consider When Making Decisions on Disposables?

“Ask the Expert” features advice from Wade Winters, Vice President of Supply Chain for Consolidated Concepts Inc. Please send questions for this column to Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine Executive Editor Barbara Castiglia at bcastiglia@modernrestaurantmanagement.com.

Q: What should operators keep in mind when making purchasing decisions for packaging/disposable products?

A: There are four main considerations when selecting disposables for your restaurant: function, appearance, sustainability and price.

  1. Function is critical to any packaging or disposable item. If the container doesn’t keep cold foods cold, hot foods hot, or keep liquids from leaking, it really doesn’t matter how pretty it is or how much it costs. Make sure the material is suited for the application. Keep in mind the type of product going inside the package because the packaging should maximize the integrity of the food inside. If the container is meant for microwaving, be sure it is made from the right type of plastic. If it isn’t microwave safe, be sure to clearly have this stated on the container to avoid liability. 
  2. Appearance of the packaging is more critical if it is part of your brand’s marketing strategy. If you have a grab n’ go business or catering, packaging is a much bigger deal. For grab n’ go, having the right packaging will help sell your products visually. People won’t buy something if it doesn’t look good. Having clear packaging so people can see the pre-packaged food is very important. Packaging designed to market your brand must have the logo and it has to look good! 
  3. Sustainability is no longer a secondary feature for packaging. Today’s consumers demand packaging that has sustainable attributes. However, there is confusion on what sustainable is. Is plastic always worse than paper? Plastic bags take less energy and water to produce than paper bags. Some would argue that paper is sustainable but isn’t plastic considered sustainable if recycled? Packaging that is compostable sounds wonderful although it rarely ends up in a composting facility.  If your guest takes the packaging with them, the restaurant has no control over what happens to it. Will the guest do the right thing and recycle or compost the packaging?  It may be best to control the part of the supply chain that you can. Sourcing packaging made from recycled materials is a great way to do your part for sustainable packaging.
  4. Price is always important. Packaging needs to be considered when factoring the total cost of the item. If your packaging isn’t affordable based on the sell price of the entire menu item, it’s not a good fit.