Plastic removal for bistro and fine dining
by Greenstic on Dec 08, 2022
Not only legal regulations, but also the internal drive and environmentally conscious attitude of guests and restaurant managers induce huge changes in packaging technology in the HORECA sector. We asked Krisztián Balázs, managing director and co-owner of Greenstic Europe, about what solutions he sees in response to current market conditions and problems.
The elimination of single-use plastics from restaurant life started quite a few years ago, but it still happens that we come across them. What do you see, where we are in this plastic-free process? What changes do you see based on the experience of the past years? What is the conversion rate?
This process, which has been going on for quite a few years, seems to have stalled a little after last year's great momentum. We can feel the breath of hospitality in the opening after COVID, the starters are festivals and foreign tourists, but at the same time, the increase in overhead costs, the price of raw materials, and the lack of labor forces the catering establishments to grab every penny. Although the market has changed a lot and the price of environmentally friendly and plastic is constantly approaching, there are still products for which plastic is cheaper than sugar cane or other environmentally friendly alternatives.
How do you see the members of the HORECA sector, what motivates them to switch to alternative means? Is customer demand, cost-effectiveness, people's awareness of environmental protection or just the legal system the most influencing factor?
Legal compliance is a great motivation, but I still see plastic cutlery or straws on the counter in many places, and polystyrene foam boxes should not be used anymore. Of course, after the first inspection or penalty, they will call you immediately to ask what we recommend instead of plastic. At the same time, the biggest motivation is fortunately increasingly the guest. If someone pays HUF 2-3 thousand for a portion of food, they already expect that it is not served on a plastic plate. For the younger generations, an environmentally conscious solution is absolutely mandatory, otherwise they will immediately move to another place. We have a partner where we directly tested and 9 out of 10 people choose the paper from the plastic or paper takeout box.
What are the most common misconceptions about biodegradable products?
What we encounter most often is that
- I can't afford the biodegradable one because it's expensive!
- The degradable device gets soaked, cannot withstand heat, grease, etc.
- It's not up to me, those few pieces of plastic don't divide or multiply...
All of them are very serious misconceptions that will probably only be rewritten by a positive experience after using the products on a daily basis.
I see that the cheapest solution will always be the most expensive in the end! Cheap products of unknown origin often get soaked or cannot withstand the heat. In such cases, of course, you have to throw it away and buy it again. And of course, it is also expensive if the customer doesn't come back because of the cheap plastic fork because it broke into the food.
What do you experience? Should and can we change our habits and does this have an effect?
I think everyone can change their habits, of course in small steps. Just think about selective waste collection, which is now an integral part of our lives, but 20 years ago it was unthinkable. This is how the plastic-free way of life will be integrated into our everyday life.
What is your experience with the corporate segment? Because if we see clearly, they are the ones most affected by this topic in addition to the HORECA sector.
For more than 10 years, I worked with large companies, mainly foreign companies. Social responsibility (CSR) is very important to them. Environmental protection is, of course, part of this. Companies like to talk about the fact that colleagues drive hybrid cars or that they work in an environmentally friendly office. And we are happy to help make this happen and provide the canteen with environmentally friendly boxes. Coffee is experiencing a renaissance, and that's why our Huskee* cups are incredibly popular, whether it's a company's own coffee shop, Christmas partner gifts or on-boarding packages.
What would you recommend to a bistro that is now planning to change its dishes, where to start, what to pay attention to, so that it chooses the right one from the beginning?
The Hungarian market is still learning the use of degradable packaging materials. In the past, it was enough to buy two types of plastic bowls and serve everything from soup to main course to dessert. We recommend 4-5 types of biodegradable devices for this purpose. The good news is that the restaurant does not have to figure it out, because in recent years we have already experienced and tested what is most suitable and we are here to share this knowledge with anyone.
How different is the attitude of the fine-dining sector? Do they have special needs?
Starting last year, in addition to the "bistro" line, "gourmet" products were added to the product range. The needs of these customers differ from those of traditional restaurants in two main ways:
- Here, the emphasis is on the presentation and the view, not on the practicality of the guests being able to take away their food in a well-sealed box.
- Our customers (who are not necessarily restaurants, as there are also private chefs, cafes, event organizers) demand even more personal contact, they need to see and try the products before they start using them. By the way, for me, they are premium customers, because here it is unthinkable to compromise with a plastic product.
In Hungary, the coffee market has begun to develop tremendously, and the capital is already full of specialty cafes, and the countryside is slowly catching up. What can you support them in?
The HuskeeCup was mentioned earlier, which is a very interesting concept. This is not just a family of cups made from coffee husk waste specially developed for coffee, but an international swap service that takes back and replaces glasses that are damaged or worn out over the years for cafés with a subscription. Of course, we still deliver most of the individual takeaway paper cups or sugarcane roofs to cafes, but Huskee cups are also taken in very large numbers.
After the opening of the market in Romania and the preparation of operations in Slovakia, they now have some international practical outlook. What are your experiences?
At the moment I see two marked differences. There is a slight lag in the elimination of plastics compared to the domestic situation (the domestic situation is far behind the Western European one), but at the same time, the Romanian market is developing rapidly and people are very open to biodegradable products. We feel that there is a great demand for quality hospitality and, with it, also for quality packaging material.
What makes Greenstic Europe unique? What is the direction or attitude that is characteristic of you?
Now I could say that we are the most prepared and the greenest, etc., but I think that we have an important recipe for success: I think that our team always wants a little more new customers, plastic-free, good relations with partners and everything different in this market than our competitors.