The Future of Fresh: Urban Farming Techniques Bring the Farm to You

The Future of Farming

The farm-to-table trend is being picked up by restaurants across the country, pushing the demand for locally sourced ingredients ever higher. In cities and deserts with limited access to farmland, urban farming is becoming an effective solution to the short supply of land suitable for growing food. Also known as vertical farming, this new technique takes rooftop gardening and multiplies it. By 12 stories, to be exact.

From Backyard to Plate

At a time where consuming healthy, locally sourced ingredients is becoming popular, urban farming caters to grocery stores, restaurants, distributors, and directly to consumers.

The presence of vertical farming facilities brings a new meaning to “locally grown.” They can be built in cities and industrialized places, putting fresh greens closer to consumers than ever and offering healthier options. This way, the need for transportation is dramatically reduced and produce stays fresh and undamaged as it is delivered farm to table.

Aerofarms, the largest vertical farming company in the US, is located in Newark, New Jersey and provides fresh greens to stores and restaurants in the New York City area. Their crops can be picked in the morning and be in your hands before noon. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!

...or does it? Germany-based Neofarms wants to take the concept one step further: their system is designed for your own kitchen, offering garden-to-table produce in a matter of minutes while taking up less space than a refrigerator. Smallhold, based in Brooklyn, is providing mini farms to restaurants to grow mushrooms for half the cost of distributor pricing. In Wyoming, Bright Argotech produces vertical farming equipment that is sold to restaurants so that they can grow their own mint, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, lettuce, parsley, and kale. Not only is the produce grown on-site, but the garden itself makes for a beautiful showpiece.

Growing Up Green

With the world population climbing steadily, resources like land and food are at risk of becoming a scarcity. It’s estimated that there will be 9 billion people in the world by the year 2050, and 70% of them will live in cities.

The concept of vertical farming has the potential to address the issues that will arise from these trends. Vertical farming is exactly what it sounds like: rather than expanding laterally, fields of greens extend upwards by stacking trays atop one another. The hydroponic system uses a mixture of dissolved nutrients to grow plants, eliminating soil and causing issues like soil erosion and agricultural runoff - the leading contributor to pollution in our oceans - to disappear.

Elements that dictate crop growth are no longer a concern; weather patterns and seasonal changes have no impact on a harvest. Inside of the facilities, every day is a sunny summer day thanks to the LED light systems and controlled indoor environment. Even better, the plants require little to no harmful pesticides and only a tiny fraction of the water needed for traditional farming.

This allows for fruits and veggies to be in season all year long. Chefs no longer have to wait until summer to serve fresh strawberries or overpay for out-of-season tomatoes. Seasonal dishes can still remain seasonal if so desired, but they are no longer limited to three months out of the year. Restaurants would be able to add new flavors and twists to their menu, appealing to a wider customer base year round.

In Conclusion...

Is vertical farming the future of food? For some crops, they answer may be yes. For others, experts argue that there is no substitute for good old-fashioned soil, water, and sunlight.

Right now, powering these facilities comes comes at a considerable cost - to both consumers and our planet. Restaurant owners who have invested in this new technology have yet to see if it will pay off. But for some, it’s less about the profit and more about the connection to the community and customers. Joining the farm to table movement is becoming more of a priority for restaurants. Customers appreciate the story behind their food and are often willing to pay more to help reduce our carbon footprint.

Keep an eye out for more vertical farms on the horizon - many more will be popping up in years to come.

 

 

 

Are Millennials Killing Restaurant Chains?

It’s sad, but true: Former hotspots like Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, and TGI Fridays have faced major sales slumps and dozens of closures as chains fall victim to the ever-changing restaurant landscape.

How are Millennials contributing to this?

For starters, they have more options than past generations: With the rise of food delivery apps like Grubhub and Seamless; grocery delivery services like Instacart; and the health-conscious food movement spurring meal prep delivery services like Blue Apron, millennials are free to define their dining style. Many are looking to consume food on-the-go or at home (in addition to cooking their own food and experimenting in their kitchens). When they do dine out, many Millennials turn to fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle and Five Guys, a sector that’s expected to balloon to nearly $67 billion by 2020.

A lingering frugality from the not-so-distant recession has also driven Millennials to be more money-conscious. As some still struggle to find jobs, they can't afford to dine out. 

Finally, travel and experiences have, in a way, replaced dining out as a status symbol or way to spend one’s time. When millennials DO dine out, they’re looking for a unique experience - and by and large, chains fail to deliver.  

So - what can current chains do to stay relevant?

Capitalize on Environmental Trends

For starters, chains could innovate by capitalizing on trends in the industry, such as creating a more social environment or open floor plan. Having a place to socialize is important, hence the sharp rise in ‘social’ restaurants.

Step Up Their Social Media Game

Millennials are a social generation. They’re more likely to make recommendations and share on social media than their generational counterparts - making them a key demographic for chains to go after. By posting to and engaging with Millennials on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, chains can form affinity between the consumer and restaurant, drive new business, and increase the number of return visitors through social media-led loyalty programs.

Expand their Selection

21% of millennials report being drawn to restaurants that offer the ability to customize a meal (this helps explain why many fast-casual restaurants are so popular among Millennials). Increasingly, Millennials define themselves as ‘foodies’ and want to try new, exciting, or unique foods. By expanding menu options, chains may be able to get new Millennials in the door.

Rebrand

Chains should take a tip from TGI Friday’s CEO, who is attempting to rebrand the chain as a trendy gastropub. By investing in new tech and debuting remodeled spaces, this will likely be a popular long-term chain strategy as an attempt to boost sales.

Offer Flexible Service Options

Adding delivery options is a great way to capitalize on the fast-casual trend without rebranding or changing a long-standing business model. Chains like Cheesecake Factory and Outback Steakhouse are partnering with third-party delivery services such as DoorDash; while other chains have chosen to be listed on Grubhub. One important thing to consider: Delivery is compelling, but costly. Pay for drivers, insurance costs, and other factors can quickly add up (not to mention food quality is sometimes slightly compromised in a delivery scenario). 

 

As a whole, Millennials are an important audience because they’re more likely than older generations as a whole to try new foods and places to eat. For chains to adapt, they’ll need to be open to pivoting strategies.

Restaurants Merge with Retail

New food spending trends have driven the traditional restaurant model to evolve, and as the line between restaurants and food retailers grows thinner, the competition gets more intense.

Some business owners in the U.S. are attempting to combat this by combining multiple channels and expanding their offerings. Establishments like Saturday’s NYC, whose SoHo flagship boasts an espresso bar in addition to clothing; and NYC’s The Blind Barber, which offers haircuts in the front and a cocktail bar in the back, are just two such examples.  

 

If you’re thinking about making the jump from restaurant to retail, here are some things to consider:

- Spend time brainstorming what would be complementary to your business. What are some common and shared interests among your customer base? Ratio Coffee & Cycle, with several locations in Tokyo, sells bike supplies in addition to hosting a full coffee bar. It’s a great gathering place for people with common interests to hang out, talk about their hobby, and shop.

-With the rise in popularity of cooking at home, consider selling pieces of your experience for customers to recreate on their way out. Momofuku Milk Bar accomplishes this by selling pre-mixed cookie mixes so customers can make their treats at home. If you have a signature, easy-to-replicate item with a special ingredient, consider selling the recipe and instructions and pre-packaging it for customers to make and share at home.

-Consider what’s available in your area. If you’re near a popular tourist destination, it’s okay to start small by selling fun t-shirts, koozies, etc. in the theme of the area or your restaurant (who doesn’t want a souvenir?)

 

This model has best results when starting with a more casual dining atmosphere with strong brand affinity. If people are in a relaxed environment and paying a fair price for their meal, they may be more inclined to splurge a little for the experience and retail offerings.

 

 

5 Chefs to Follow on Social Media

Food has gone from a simple necessity to somewhere between an art form and entertainment - TV shows, foodie accounts, travel blogs, and galleries feature edible creations for millions of people to see.

In the era of digital technology, chefs are learning to embrace social media and promote their brands by sharing mouth-watering photos of dishes and their own original recipes. Through online platforms like Instagram and Twitter, chefs from around the world can allow fans and followers to experience a taste of their story. Here are a few that Team Harri loves to keep up with!

Jordi Roca: Instagram - @jordirocasan

Image: Eat Drink Films

Image: Eat Drink Films

Jordi and his two brothers, Josep and Joan, work in the kitchen of el Celler de Can Roca in Spain. While his brothers handle main dishes and drinks, Jordi concocts desserts for his world-renowned restaurant. With each brother handling an aspect of the meal, the trio turns dining into a full experience for all five senses.

El Celler de Can Roca was named World’s Best Restaurant in 2013 and 2015, and now sits at #3 on the Top 50 list. Jordi’s instagram is lively stream of travel, mouth-watering sweets, cooking videos, and chocolate!

Roy Choi: Twitter - @RidingShotgunLA

Image: Travel and Leisure Magazine

Image: Travel and Leisure Magazine

Considered to be one of the founders of the food truck movement, Roy Choi opened up his first restaurant on wheels, Kogi, in 2008. The korean barbecue truck picked up speed, pulling attention towards “food that isn’t fancy.” Choi now owns several other eateries in the LA area, where he combines Mexican, Korean, Hawaiian, and other flavor palates that people enjoy both sitting down and standing on a street corner.

Choi’s twitter is a hub of information about his restaurants and trucks, and includes hilarious commentary on just about anything and everything else. Choi documents his life through his feed, and brings you along for the ride.

Massimo Bottura: Twitter - @massimobottura

Image: Twitter @massimobottura

Image: Twitter @massimobottura

Never trust a skinny Italian chef - except when he’s giving you a recipe! Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana in Modeno, Italy has been ranked amongst the top restaurants in the world year after year. Bottura is now turning his attention towards his non-profit, Food for Soul, which is focused on donating food to the poor and reducing food waste.

Browse through his twitter feed - you may find a few familiar faces. The Obamas recently paid him a visit, and his restaurant was featured in the new season of comedian Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None.” Added to the recipes, philanthropic events, and travels, Bottura’s passion shines through unlike any other.

Marcus Samuelsson: Twitter - @marcuscooks

Image: Chicago Splash Magazine

Image: Chicago Splash Magazine

If there was ever a chef to masterfully pull together cultures from across the globe, it would be Marcus Samuelsson. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson apprenticed in Switzerland and France before coming to New York, giving an international flair to each of his dishes.

He has since opened up a number of his own restaurants both in the states and abroad to become a world-renowned chef, and regularly appears on the Food Network. His twitter is a fun and interactive stream of his delicious recipes for his followers and fans to make at home.

Janice Wong: Instagram - @janicewong2am

Image: Janice Wong Singapore

Image: Janice Wong Singapore

Wong is a pastry chef based in Singapore who takes desserts to the next level. Her creations look like they belong in a museum rather than on a plate - she uses food as her medium to create “edible art” to both eat and put on display. Needless to say, her enticing videos make for an eye-popping instagram!

She is the founder of 2am: dessertbar, 2am: lab, and Janice Wong in Singapore, and has been named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef for two consecutive years.

 

How to Win Over Customers

Despite a 10% increase in service scores, restaurants are failing to bring back customers. Why is that? It’s not that guests aren’t enjoying themselves - when asked about their experience, most will say that they were satisfied. But when asked if they planned on returning, relatively few said that they would. The number of customers who actually do return is even smaller, as plans change and fall through. So how do you turn a new customer into a regular? Here are some ideas:

Create a customer loyalty program

The most direct way to have customers return is to have some kind of incentive. We all have those frozen yogurt stamp cards that we never remember to bring back, but having a similar program - where customers are working towards some kind of reward - benefits both parties. Implementing a customer loyalty program may help boost retention rates.

Offer different promos or coupons based on how often customers visit different locations, order online, or use your app. Getting a salad or sandwich for lunch could be worth a certain point value, while ordering take-out could be worth another. As points (and usage) add up, customers will be back for more!

Explore alternatives to waiting in line

Wait time is a prominent factor when considering where to eat. 93% of consumers have reportedly left or walked past a restaurant if there is a long line, but a majority said that they would be more inclined to stay if they received communications or alerts about exactly how long their wait would be. Let your guests know how long they should expect to wait. Clear communication up front, along with periodic updates, will help prevent frustration and walk-outs.

You may also want to consider an online waitlist to reduce the amount of time spent waiting in person. Have guests without a reservation call ahead or notify via an app that they would like to be added to the queue.

If there is still a considerable wait for seating, many people noted that they’d be willing to stick it out if there was some kind of entertainment while they waited. This could include live music, allowing them to order from the bar, or having activities for restless kids - maybe even offering benefits from your new customer loyalty program!

Host private events

Guests can have their cake and eat it too! From baby showers to birthdays, customers may want to use your restaurant as the location for their next celebration. People will be laughing, enjoying themselves, and creating memories - all tied to the tastes and atmosphere of your space. Make sure they have a great time, and have some faith in the power of word-of-mouth.

Event hosts and guests alike will remember the delicious food and wonderful ambiance of your restaurant!