COLORADO SPRINGS, CO—Farm-to-table food sourcing—it sounds great and tastes even better. While local flavors are all the rage in hospitality, actually getting these products isn’t easy, especially when it isn’t already built into a hotel’s food and beverage model. Trying to fit it in isn’t only difficult to organize, but can also be costly.
Online marketplace and logistics company FoodMaven has an innovative way to solve this industry problem, with its new initiative that launched last month. Through relationships with local suppliers, FoodMaven is able to take the guesswork out of local food sourcing.
According to FoodMaven’s CEO/co-founder Patrick Bultema, direct sourcing is difficult because neither the hotel nor the farmer can pull off the logistics. FoodMaven not only maintains local relationships for hotels, but manages the full logistics and all safety procedures required to ensure that food gets from the farm to the hotel in a safe and timely manner.
FoodMaven sells this food to hotels through an online marketplace at a discount—usually a 20-50% wholesale discount—whether food is oversupplied, out-of-spec or is high-quality local food without effective distribution channels. FoodMaven’s pricing takes into consideration where the food came from, where the food is in its life cycle and what the market will pay.
“Our real vision is to make sure that all food gets used with good purpose; toward that end, our mission is to capture and make a market for all this food that gets lost in the industrial food system,” Bultema said.
FoodMaven sources food that would otherwise get lost, going to waste in landfills. This not only generates revenue on food that would have been thrown away but also helps to reduce greenhouse gases by keeping food out of landfills.
“A lot of the local produce FoodMaven sells to our customers comes from [what]are known as ‘seconds’ and do not meet the cosmetic standards to be sold at retail,” Bultema explained. “For example, if a head of lettuce is too small or an onion is oddly shaped, they won’t be sold in a traditional grocery store. Consumers have come to expect uniform size, color and shape when they are buying produce, but a lot of product grown by producers doesn’t meet those standards and is plowed back into the field. FoodMaven is helping farmers to sell these products that have the same taste and quality as cosmetically perfect fruits and vegetables into the hands of chefs.”
In addition, any food that doesn’t sell is donated to hunger-relief organizations—about 20% of the inventory.
“That’s kind of the magic,” Bultema said. “You’re able to have your cake and eat it too. For hotels, they can do this good thing from an environmental, sustainability and social responsibility perspective, and they’re going to save money.”
FoodMaven has partnered with Hilton, first in Colorado and soon in Dallas. To date, FoodMaven provides food to hotels in Denver and throughout the Front Range of Colorado.
According to Bultema, deals with other hospitality chains are in the works, and FoodMaven is working to become integrated into other national hotel brands’ procurement systems. FoodMaven hopes to begin pilots with these brands in the next year.
For Hilton, FoodMaven’s sustainable approach was not only appealing, but something that was already built into the brand’s ethos.
“As Hilton focuses on our Travel with Purpose commitment to reduce food waste to landfill by 50% and double our local sourcing by 2030, it is critical for hotels to find local partners who help them progress toward these goals,” said Terry Jenkins, corporate responsibility, Americas, Hilton.
The initiative is felt all the way through management, especially with those who spend most of their time working with the actual product.
“Through our partnership, we have been able to enhance our guest dining experience by bringing in local products while diverting more than three tons of potential landfill waste,” said Nikki Newman, executive chef at Hilton Denver City Center. “It has also allowed us to circulate money back into our local economy, while simultaneously providing more than 1,000 meals to combat hunger within our community.”
Seeing how sustainability is a growing concern, FoodMaven works with both corporate offices and hotel chefs at the property level to ensure all needs in this area are being met.
Because hotels are competing more and more with restaurants, both local and healthy options are the new normal. People are also more concerned now about where their food comes from and how it’s grown.
In addition, Bultema said, consumers have become more concerned about the impact their food has on the environment and recognize that sourcing local food creates less of an environmental footprint.
Bultema explained, “After FoodMaven has established strategic partnerships at the corporate level, it sends an account representative to work with the hotel chef and determine their menu needs. If a more sustainable or local substitute for a menu item can be identified, FoodMaven will source that item directly.”
FoodMaven is also fully integrated with hospitality technology platforms so chefs can shop FoodMaven’s inventory through their normal procurement channel. This also allows hotels to easily know what’s in season and the quantity or quality of available product, improving on logistics.
“FoodMaven generates revenue for suppliers and saves money for its buyers by leveraging technology and optimizing logistics,” Bultema said. HB