Chick-Fil-A Sustainability

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Sustainability in Fast Food

Some of the key trends surrounding sustainability in the fast food/QSR space include restaurants' changing menus to offer more plant-based foods since they are more sustainable, ending the use of single-serve plastic packaging, and boosting transparency to connect more with customers and their sustainability needs.

Statistics on How Consumers Feel About Sustainability

  • According to a KPMG report, consumers growing concerns over the environment, increased preferences for healthier foods, and heightened expectations are forcing fast foods and the Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) industry to change and embrace sustainable measures.
  • The report further said that 60% of consumers are more likely to buy from a fast food joint that offers items that have been grown in an eco-friendly manner.
  • A further 76% of consumers are more likely to buy food from a restaurant that offers healthier options.
  • According to a Futerra survey, 88% of consumers are looking for environmentally conscious brands.
  • Therefore, the rising awareness of sustainability, especially among millennials, is forcing restaurants in the fast food and QSR space to 'go green' by implementing environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. Some key trends surrounding sustainability in the fast food/QSR space include;

1. Changing Menus to Offer More Plant-Based Foods Since They Are More Sustainable

  • According to Forbes, 1/3 of the population is opting to eat less pork, beef, poultry, and dairy and are gravitating towards more plant-based products.
  • Additionally, the same 1/3 of the population is also eating less seafood because overfishing and poor fishing techniques are just as unsustainable as raising cows and pigs.
  • This population is turning towards plant-based products because the technology involves sampling animal protein from a live animal, then grown it in a fermenter to create animal meat without the need to rear and slaughter animals thus more sustainable.
  • According to a study by OnePoll, more than half of Americans are now eating plant-based meals at least once a day.
  • Steve Solomon, a food service director for the Redwood Shore, says that plant-based diets are trending. Not only are consumers more aware of the term plant-based, but they also want more vegetables and less meat.
  • Therefore, as a result of the consumer demands, fast-food/QSR restaurants have started to include plant-based foods in their menus.
  • This increased demand for plant-based foods has led to the growth of some fast-food/QSR restaurants. As a result, the revenue for the fast-food/QSR industry is expected to grow at an annualized revenue of 3.3% in five years time to $20.1 billion.
  • Taco Bell is a good example of fast-food restaurants that are now including plant-based choices in their menus.
  • KFC's plant-based fried chicken from Beyond Meat that sold in less than 5 hours and Dunkin's starting to offer Beyond Sausage Sandwich nationwide are good examples of how more and more people are now into plant-based foods.

2. Ending the Use of Single-Serve Plastic Packaging

  • Recently, customers have become more concerned with plastic use and packaging waste and this is making companies look for more sustainable alternatives.
  • In fact, about one-third of customers are saying that they are willing to pay up to 10% more on their food if that will mean less single-use plastic packaging.
  • Therefore, many brands are switching from unsustainable packaging materials such as plastic to more renewable, recyclable and recycled ones like paper.
  • Not only can paper fiber be recycled up to seven times because it has a longer life cycle compared to other materials, but it is also a natural source.
  • Other restaurants such as Dig, a New York-based fast-casual chain, are experimenting with re-usable bowls as an effort towards creating a sustainable system.
  • McDonald's also recently ran a sustainable packaging experiment in one of its stores that lasted 10 days. This experiment was in anticipation of the impending 2021 ban on single-use plastics by the European Union.
  • During the ten days experiment, the store served burgers in packaging made from grass, condiments in edible waffle cups and McFlurrys with wooden spoons.
  • Moreover, McDonald's has also vowed to use packaging that is 100% recycled or renewable as well as have recycling available in all of its locations by 2025.
  • The global edible packaging market is expected to surpass $1 billion in value by 2023.
  • Dunkin' Donuts also intends to get rid of all its foam cups by 2020 and use double-walled paper cups that are more sustainable.

3. Boosting Transparency to Connect More With Customers and Their Sustainability Needs

  • According to Cory Schisler, who is the creative director for Sustainable Restaurant Group, more and more people now want to know where their food is from and how a restaurant's activities affect the environment.
  • Additionally, a recent report by Label Insight showed that 94% of the respondents said that it is important for companies to be more transparent about what ingredients are in the food and how it was made.
  • As a result, restaurants in the fast-food/QSR space are choosing to be more transparent with their customers about their goals and sustainability strategies.
  • This need for transparency is forcing the fast-food/QSR industry to be more open to communities about food ingredients, how the foods are made, and how waste is handled.
  • Several corporate stakeholders and investors in the industry are also making sure that not only is transparency adhered to by their companies but also sustainability is taken seriously in every major decision.
  • Renee Yardley, the senior vice president of sales and marketing for Sustana Group, says that in the past, restaurants in the fast-food/QSR space used to wait for legislation to force them into being sustainable but things have changed now as they are now ahead of sustainability conversations.
  • For instance, the Sustainable Restaurant Group has been increasing transparency on its sustainability efforts by producing more video content to educate their customers on what they focus on and how the customers can support them.
  • A good example of a company in the fast-food/QSR space that is leaning into this transparency trend is McDonald's.
  • Cynthia Goody and Amy Wilcox who are the chief nutritionist and director of quality systems and supply chain management for McDonald’s respectively, explained how the company is increasing transparency.
  • The first thing McDonald's did was to create its own definition of clean label and make sure that consumers, suppliers, and operators are on the same page.
  • When the company could not find a pickle that fit its clean label definition to use in the McDonald's Burger, the company went ahead and used what they had but made sure that an asterisk was added next to the burger on the menu since the company values transparency.

Research Strategy

In the attempt to identify key trends surrounding sustainability in the fast food/QSR space, we searched and cross-referenced our selections through numerous credible news articles, media publications, and press releases written by industry experts. The outlets we examined include but are not limited to Forbes, KPMG, IBIS World, and QSR Magazine with a focus on trends evident in 2019, as well as those that are more likely to continue into the future.

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Sustainability - Chick-Fil-A's Key Competitors

Two of Chick-Fil-A's key competitors are KFC and Wendy’s. KFC’s sustainability efforts focus on sustainable packaging. Wendy’s sustainability efforts focus on sustainable packaging, energy management, and cooking oil recycling.


  • KFC’s main sustainability efforts focus on implementing a more sustainable packaging strategy in its restaurants around the world.
  • The company’s latest sustainability commitment was announced in January 2019 when it pledged to stop using non-recoverable or non-reusable plastic-based, consumer-facing packaging by 2025.
  • To meet its goal, KFC has established a roadmap that involved working with major suppliers and franchisees worldwide to identify plastic alternatives in each region.
  • The company’s key initiatives include conducting audits of its franchisees’ systems to identify opportunities for reducing plastic waste, working with suppliers to identify sustainable alternatives for straws, plastic bags, cutlery, and lids, and setting recycling goals for specific markets.
  • KFC has also signed on as a supporting partner with NextGen Consortium to help develop fiber packaging solutions.
  • The company’s other active sustainability commitment is to source 100 percent of its fiber-based packaging from certified or recycled sources by 2020.
  • In 2018, KFC U.S. achieved its goal of purchasing only chickens raised without human antibiotics.
  • KFC U.S. is also currently working with over 2,000 farms nationwide to meet its goal of using bone-in chickens without antibiotics.


  • Wendy’s has adopted a four-pronged approach to sustainability called Squarely Sustainable.
  • The Squarely Sustainable approach includes using less and reducing unnecessary materials use, using better and identifying certified sustainable materials where possible, identifying consumer-facing initiatives that can drive change, engaging partners to identify solutions for important issues.
  • Wendy’s latest sustainability commitment was announced in February 2019 when it pledged to advance sustainable packaging solutions by signing on as a partner with the NextGen Consortium.
  • The company's most recent successful sustainable packing goal was achieved in 2012 when it eliminated the use of Styrofoam in restaurants.
  • Besides packaging, Squarely Sustainable also focuses on efforts related to energy management and cooking oil recycling.
  • The energy management initiatives created by Wendy’s include efficient energy management for new and existing restaurants, joining the Better Buildings Challenge, creating the Wendy’s Energy Challenge to target franchisees, and supporting the U.S. Green Building Council’s commitment by building LEED-certified restaurants.
  • As part of its used cooking oil recycling efforts, the company has worked with several oil recycling companies to collect used cooking oil for refining into ingredients for biofuels, animal feed, and consumer products such as cosmetics, tires, and leather shoes.
  • Every month, Wendy's restaurants recycle 545 to 750 pounds of used cooking oil.

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From Part 01
  • "Consumer demands for plant-based food, ethnic flavors, all-day availability and variety are driving trends for fresh produce on QSR menus. This is creating challenges and lucrative opportunities for operators going forward."
  • "Both takeaway chains and major food manufacturers have benefited from soaring demand for vegan food products over the past five years."
  • "KFC's Beyond Fried Chicken sold out in less than five hours Monday at a single Atlanta store, according to an email KFC shared with Restaurant Dive."
  • "Dunkin' will begin offering its Beyond Sausage Sandwich nationwide on Nov. 6, the company announced Monday."
  • "For $3 per month via the Canteen by Dig mobile app, customers who dine at the Washington Square Park location can rent and return containers through the app. The user must show the app screen to the cashier at checkout to participate. The customer then returns the container, which is made from black melamine and a plastic lid, to the store on their next visit. The bowls are then cleaned and returned to the store's inventory."
  • "Consumers are showing a strong distaste for single-use plastics and a desire to cut down on their plastic waste footprint."
  • "There is no question that restaurants have to make environmental sustainability a priority, but how they do so changes often, based on consumer, corporate, and sometimes governmental demands."
  • "While some might consider it a passing trend, sustainability is quickly becoming an integral part of today’s restaurant business."
  • "The use of paper cups will prevent nearly 1 billion foam cups from entering the waste stream every year. "
  • "As far as McDonald’s burger goes, “the pickle presented a problem,” said Wilcox. 'We couldn’t find one that fit our definition, so we went forward with what we had and put an asterisk next to it on the menu. Being truthful and transparent is important to us.'"