Since we now live in a world where the to-go order is the main attraction at restaurants, we need to start treating the issue of excess single-use packaging with a whole lot more urgency.
Clearly I’m not the only one to have that thought, as two major QSR chains made sustainability announcements of their own this week. Both are aimed at reducing the amount of plastic that winds up in landfills and the ocean — no small feat considering the billions of single-use cups, straws, and containers we throw out each year, thanks in no small part to the convenience-driven delivery and to-go craze.
On Thursday, Starbucks, sent out an update saying its “strawless lids” are now “the standard for iced beverages” at stores in the U.S. and Canada. The lids use roughly 9 percent less plastic than the normal lid-and-straw combo. The rollout of these lids applies to company-owned and licensed Starbucks stores, and is expected to be completed by the end of the month. Straws will still be available upon request.
It’s an important milestone, especially considering Starbucks is arguably responsible for the populace’s current fixation with fancy drinks in plastic or plastic-coated cups. But it doesn’t actually remove single-use plastics from equation.
The latest initiative from McDonald’s does. This week, the company announced a partnership with zero-waste platform Loop to create a reusable cup program at McDonald’s locations in the UK. Users can opt for a reusable cup, for which they leave a small deposit that’s retrieved when they return the cup. Loop collects the empties, washes and sanitizes them, and puts them back into circulation. The concept is reminiscent of Dishcraft Robotics’ “dishes-as-a-service” model, which recently added reusable takeout containers to the items it collects, washes, and returns to the foodservice loop.
The obvious drawback here is that putting down a deposit at McDonald’s and then taking the time to return the cup is inconvenient. Inconvenience doesn’t sell with many consumers these days (which is another separate issue itself).
A reusable cup system is, however, a bolder move than simply reducing plastic, and bold moves are what we need right now to get excessive packaging out of the foodservice world. That the McDonald’s pilot is coming from a multi-billion corporation with a $4 billion digital business is encouraging. But to become widespread, the entire restaurant industry is going to have to pitch in, from the major chains and supply companies to delivery services, mom-and-pop stores, and consumers themselves.
That’s no small ask at a time when the restaurant industry is utterly crippled from the pandemic and small chains and independent restaurants are permanently shuttering at an alarming pace. But with off-premises orders being the future of restaurants for the foreseeable future, no one can afford to shelve the glaring issue of single-use packaging for much longer, not without risking further environmental consequences.
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Zomato Raises $100M, Plans IPO
Zomato, one of India’s largest food delivery services, announced this week it has raised $100 million from Tiger Global and is preparing for an IPO in 2021.
The news is just another layer of development to what’s been a very busy year for Zomato. The company bought Uber Eats’ India business in March, raised a $5 million Series J round in April, and unveiled a grocery delivery service in the same month. It had to cut 13 percent of its workforce in May (thanks, pandemic), but things are clearly looking up for the service, as it raised $62 million from Temasek and just days ago said in a blog post that “recovery trends are strong.”
A prospective IPO is another sign of that recovery. In a letter to employees reviewed by TechCrunch, Zomato co-founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal set “sometime in the first half of next year” as a timeline for said IPO. At the moment the company has “no immediate plans” on how it will spend the investment from Tiger Global, if it spends it at all. Goyal called the cash a “war-chest” for future M&A and for fighting price wars from competition.
Given that Zomato competes fiercely with Swiggy for the Indian food delivery market, and given the consolidation the entire third-party delivery industry is undergoing, having a war chest doesn’t seem like a bad move right now.
Restaurant Tech ‘Round the Web
Fast-casual chain Sweetgreen this week launched Collections, a new digital-only menu available through the restaurant’s app and website. According to a press release sent to The Spoon, menu items are curated according to specific themes and dietary preferences/restrictions, and will make recommendations that are unique to each individual customer.
Order-ahead platform Allset has teamed up with digital ordering platform Olo to streamline the pickup order process for participating restaurants. Olo’s system lets restaurants manage menus, pricing, and order fulfillment across multiple third-party platforms, thus creating fewer manual workflows for restaurant staff.
Starting Sept. 30, NYC restaurants will be allowed to operate indoor dining rooms at 25 percent capacity. The announcement, made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week, comes just as the city gears up for the colder days ahead that will limit outdoor seating for most businesses.