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Cafeteria chain opts for sustainable agriculture

(Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Associated Press: PORTLAND, Ore. -- A major cafeteria management chain has rewritten its mission statement to emphasize sustainable agriculture, asking its chefs to use locally grown produce and meat free of hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified feed.

Oil used to fry french fries will be recycled and turned into environmentally friendly diesel fuel. And only wild salmon and dolphin-safe tuna is to be served.

The changes at Bon Appetit Management Co., which serves one million meals each week at on-site restaurants for more than 150 corporations, have evolved over several years.

It was in Oregon, where farmers markets and sustainable living practices abound, that the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company tested the concept of sustainable food delivery two years ago and discovered that it made good business sense.

``We've done enough focus group studies to realize that people are willing to pay a little bit more for something that's better,'' said Fedele Bauccio, CEO of Bon Appetit.

Founded in 1987 as a catering company, Bon Appetit's goal was to bring restaurant techniques to the cafeteria world. Early on, the company opted for fresh ingredients, but was disappointed by what was available.

``Meat didn't taste the way it used to taste because we'd lost our local producers. Things were being grown thousands of miles away. Vegetables were picked before they were ripe,'' said Maisie Ganzler, director of corporate communications and industry relations for Bon Appetit.

Bon Appetit made changes to have full quality control, and its achievements in Oregon have become the company's goal.

Here, Bon Appetit works with Sunshine Dairy to get milk which is free of artificial growth hormones. Its crusts and pastries are made from flour milled by a consortium of wheat growers in eastern Washington that do not till the soil after harvest, decreasing runoff and increasing topsoil.

``I have a tomato farmer whose pick date is one day before we serve it. I have a berry farmer who calls wanting to know how many flats to bring because he's picking the berries just for us,'' said Joe McGarry, a Bon Appetit employee who has been the executive chef of Oregon's Intel campus for the last seven years.

By altering its mission statement, Bauccio says he hopes to bring every one of its on-site restaurants up to the same standard. With accounts in 26 states from the corporate headquarters of Best Buy to the basement cafe at the Art Institute of Chicago, practices have varied widely. On the East Coast, chefs complained that they can't possibly be asked to rely solely on local producers in the winter.

Company executives say they hope that will soon change. Chefs that have embraced the sustainable system have noticed the difference.

``Let's take vegetables,'' said chef Marc Marelich, who runs the eBay cafeteria for Bon Appetit in San Jose, Calif.

``Lettuces that are picked the day before, when they come in are still alive. Every leaf has its own flavor -- it explodes in your mouth with flavor. If you have it from out-of-state and shipped in, all the flavors meld together. There's no 'Wow!' factor,'' he said.

Bon Appetit: