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Southeast Asia’s Sustainable Dining Scene: Eco-Friendly F&B Solutions

by Busines Newswire
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By Thanit Apipatana

Southeast Asia’s culinary landscape is renowned worldwide for its diversity. From spicy Thai curries to savoury Vietnamese pho and everything in between, people are drawn to authentic flavours and traditional dishes. Yet, whether local or tourists, there’s a growing awareness of the environmental toll of our culinary choices, and consumers are increasingly looking for sustainable practices in food production and consumption.

Consequently, there’s a rising preference for dining establishments that actively champion sustainable practices. Thus, consumers are gravitating towards eco-conscious options, presenting a prime opportunity for businesses to capitalise on this trend. Whether by curbing carbon emissions, opting for alternative meat and plant-based offerings, shifting to a cloud kitchen, or choosing biodegradable packaging, a burgeoning market is waiting to be tapped into.

Successful Sustainable Initiatives in Southeast Asia

In the region, there are great efforts to make dining more sustainable, especially in restaurants. One effective approach is to use local ingredients instead of importing them. This cuts down on transportation emissions and helps local farmers by giving them fair wages and supporting the economy.

Moreover, restaurants in the region are making serious efforts to reduce food waste. They’re careful with inventory, plan meals in advance, compost leftovers, and donate extra food to charity. Some partner with organisations like Scholars of Sustenance (SOS) to tackle food waste and help alleviate hunger issues.

SOS operates a rescue kitchen that gathers ingredients and prepares meals for underprivileged children. They receive contributions from retailers, restaurants, and numerous other establishments aiming to diminish food waste and mitigate emissions from landfills.

The Southeast Asia cloud kitchen market is expected to grow at a CAGR of around 13.2% from 2023 to 2028. Cloud kitchens, with their centralised cooking facilities, are designed for peak efficiency. They consume less energy compared to standalone restaurants, thus reducing overall energy consumption and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, their advanced technology for inventory and delivery management minimises food spoilage and unnecessary delays in food delivery.

Integrating Sustainability: Strategies for F&B Businesses

Food and beverage (F&B) businesses must take sustainable action to keep up with the growing consumer demand. Let’s look at some of the avenues they can incorporate.

Plant-Based Menus

Last year, a Statista survey of Thai consumers found that 65% of respondents prioritise selecting food with healthy ingredients, believing their choices can impact the world. For these discerning customers, a plant-based menu is an ideal solution. Thai cuisine, famous for its vibrant flavours, provides numerous vegetable options, such as Thai eggplant, bok choy, morning glory, bean sprouts, and leafy greens like water spinach and Chinese kale.

Additionally, incorporating popular plant-based protein sources like tofu and tempeh can further enhance the nutritional value of food offerings. These versatile ingredients can be stir-fried, grilled, or incorporated into curries and salads, providing a delicious and wholesome addition to the vegan repertoire.

Upcycling Food Waste into New Products

As the number of fitness enthusiasts and environmentally conscious individuals in the community continues to grow, dining establishments must adapt to consumers’ evolving needs and interests. One possible way to do this is by creating dishes made from repurposed food waste, such as nutritious snacks made from fruit peels and pulps, which may appeal to these groups.

Cutting Down on Single-Use Plastics

Replace disposable plastic items like straws, cutlery, and takeaway containers with sustainable alternatives made from bamboo, paper, cardboard, or compostable plastics. These eco-friendly options are often biodegradable or recyclable, reducing the environmental impact.

 Garden to Plate: Sourcing Fresh Ingredients Locally

Restaurants can enhance their appeal by boasting a unique selling proposition (USP) of cultivating a significant portion of their ingredients in on-site mini gardens. With ingredients harvested from the garden, patrons can enjoy their meals in verdant surroundings. This eliminates the need for ingredient transportation and further minimises carbon footprint.

Streamlining Food Waste Management

An initiative aimed at reducing food waste is imperative, especially in light of alarming statistics. Thailand alone generated a staggering 17 million tons of wasted food in 2022. Approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food are globally wasted annually, with Thailand’s per capita waste at 145 kg per person yearly.

Implementing inventory management software and systems can help restaurants effectively manage inventory levels and forecast demand. This, in turn, minimises overstocking and avoids excess inventory that may spoil or expire. Consequently, the volume of food disposed of diminishes, mitigating the environmental impact of food waste.

Food waste squanders valuable resources and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions arise not only from the production, transportation, and storage of food but also from the methane released during its decomposition in landfills. Curtailing food waste can substantially mitigate these emissions and create a more environmentally responsible food system.

Role of Consumers in Driving Sustainability

A recent study by Madre Brava that surveyed around 1500 Thai consumers revealed that 67% of respondents expressed a keen interest in reducing their meat consumption, primarily motivated by environmental and animal welfare concerns. Remarkably, 18% of participants are already taking proactive measures towards this goal, gravitating towards plant-based proteins or meat alternatives such as tofu and seitan.

However, respondents identified cost as a significant factor influencing their dietary choices. Ensuring these plant-based options are reasonably priced is paramount, as many cited the higher cost of plant-based meat or alternatives as a deterrent. Thus, with the growing demand for these alternatives, making them accessible and affordable could encourage individuals to embrace a more sustainable and compassionate approach to eating.

Southeast Asia’s food and beverage industry needs to make sustainability a top priority. As awareness of environmental issues grows and consumers demand eco-friendly practices, embracing sustainability isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s also smart business. By taking steps like sourcing local ingredients, cutting down on food waste, and providing plant-based options, F&B businesses can help create a more sustainable planet while satisfying the changing preferences of their customers.

Who is Thanit Apipatana:

Thanit Apipatana is a Bangkok-based entrepreneur, investor, and startup advisor with a keen interest in venture building, real estate, F&B, sports and philanthropy. Mr. Apipatana has advised and invested in companies in the region, including Singapore-based proptech startup Mogul.sg and Thai-based Life Below Labs. As a thought leader, Mr. Apipatana shares his insights on entrepreneurship, F&B, education, sports and the social sector.