Green foodservice supplies — products that are made with post-consumer materials or plant-based ingredients and can be recycled or composted once used — have a growing customer base. The trend began with restaurant owners who were seeing a high-volume carry-out business, and this market remains one of the best customer bases for jan/san distributors. The foodservice industry is very competitive, and a specific customer base is looking for places that offer green products.

“There are eaters out there who are interested in these products, and will gravitate to a restaurant that advertises they use them,” says Christopher Nolan, president at H.T. Berry Co. in Canton, Mass. “If businesses market themselves correctly, I think there’s a client out there for them.”

With the immense options in dining today, many environmentally conscious individuals will go online in search of restaurants that use green products, Nolan adds.

The trend is spreading to other facilities, especially colleges and universities because they are “being driven by tomorrow’s generation,” says Erny Davis, vice president of the food service division for Hill and Markes Inc. in Amsterdam, N.Y. Aside from schools, distributors should approach hospitals, offices and other facilities with cafeterias.

In cafeteria settings, green foodservice disposables are popular because a captured audience is more likely to select the compost-disposable items if they are not taken off site and will be collected by the facility’s custodial staff, says Nolan.

Offering foodservice disposables to existing clients is a great way for distributors to grow their business. Distributors can help clients spend effectively by bundling these products with others.

“Use your strength on chemicals and paper products and then bundle with a green offering in foodservice,” Nolan says. This approach drives business for distributors and benefits the environment and customers’ appeal.

At H.T. Berry, the sales team is very well trained in making customers aware of the green offerings in disposable foodservice products. The company does site surveys, and makes recommendations for ways to minimize the environmental impact of their current products.

Green disposables are still a new product offering, so they can cost more than their traditional counterparts, which will deter many customers from giving them a try. Bill Weidmaier, president of Iowa-Des Moines Supply Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa, says that many foodservice establishments are simply trying to keep their doors open, and the cost of these products might outweigh the benefit for some.

Nolan advises clients who may be hesitant to start small, and try a couple things first. Cups are a great way to test the waters and see if the restaurant ownership, staff, and end users like them, he says.  

Just like with new cleaning products, distributors need to discuss the pros and cons with customers, as well as the best options for them, says Jennifer Rosenberg, president of Acorn Distributors in Indianapolis. This strategy gives a distributor the best of both worlds: a loyal client and a new product to offer them.

“If you’re not talking about it, your competition is,” says Rosenberg. “You need to educate yourself, because it’s the future.”

For those clients interested in green disposables, distributors should encourage customers to get the green word out. From table tents to menu notes and website mentions, a client that is going green in their foodservice offerings must be their own best advocate.

“If customers want to be green, they need to make an investment to be green. They need to toot their green horn,” says Rosenberg. “They need to advertise it to their customers. It’s all marketing.”

Jennifer Bradley is a freelance writer based in East Troy, Wis.