Why "Farmwashing" Could Harm Your Restaurant

With more Americans opting for foods that are quick, convenient, and easy, fast-food companies have to ensure their philosophies can appeal to a market that demands a higher standard for their food. Of course, a common result of everyone in the industry “trying to get their piece of the pie” is usually the misuse of several ecological terms. The goal of this post is to help you manage your restaurant to be on the better end of the ‘Farmwashing’ spectrum.

Casual upscale dining entities exist in this interesting dichotomy of “Let’s label it as Farm-To-Table to attract a specific consumer” or “let’s not unnecessarily farmwash our cuisine that does not need the fluffy terms to sell itself." Unfortunately, the existence of both are necessary because the fluff will attract freshly birthed food enthusiasts until they have had the food experiences that enrich themselves.

It is quite often I find myself gravitated towards certain products in a store because they appear to be manufactured with consideration for environmental consequences when in fact, the recycled or eco-conscious content of the product is very minimal. This phenomenon has been labeled as “Greenwashing” and the premises of it can be traced back to the 90s when the US market started caring about healthy eating because of misconstrued scientific facts on correlations between fat intake and weight loss. Little did the researchers responsible for these studies realize their sensationalized literatures would be the beginning of a long obsession with using terms such as “natural” to describe food and other everyday consumable products. The misuse of major industry buzzwords can lead to the following harmful consequences to your brand:

  • brand dissonance between your business and your customers
  • legal troubles if you mislead customers with dietary needs
  • loss of revenue if you tie your brand to a passing trend or fad

Why transparency matters

Long-term, your food business might be better off being more transparent in its marketing tactics when it comes to food sourcing. Chipotle was one of the first major fast-food restaurants to leverage its philosophy on those grounds and their efforts have accelerated the farm-to-table paradigm shift. Even though Chipotle has experienced waves of negative light in the media due to E.coli contamination, they have caused consumer tastes to become slightly more elevated, thus permanently altering fast food consumer attitudes towards healthier options. For the US market, upscale “fast casual” food is on the rise while unprogressive mass-produced foods must take their businesses to international markets to experience growth. Using Chipotle, Whole Foods, and other similar food companies as case studies suggests consistent customer loyalty is earned if your food business stays mostly true to the original philosophy (as much as possible because we also consider how difficult it is to have a sustainable food business when thinking in larger scalability terms).

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For those reasons, it's important to think carefully about the image you are making your food business portray. A good way to customize the customer experience is to observe what other successful and inspirational food businesses are doing. Are they subtly educating their customers on the source of the ingredients? Sometimes the customer experience is enhanced when the food’s freshness and quality exceeds their initial expectations because the menu delivery was generic sounding and lacking in “fluff”. It takes some experimentation but the objective of this extra work is a unique identity and representation of character and philosophy for you, your staff, and your food business!


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