A Newfound Interest in Organic Franchises

Consumers are growing more interested in organics every day, but those interests are rarely reflected at franchises - why?
 A Newfound Interest in Organic Franchises

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When it comes to organic franchises, Pizza Fusion runs the biggest game in town. Of course, that’s mostly because Pizza Fusion seems to be running the only organic franchise game in town.

It’s strange to think about, really – considering the interested that consumers have taken in organics within recent years. Just recently, a Consumer Reports survey of fast food patrons showed that consumers are chomping at the bit for fresher, higher quality, organic and natural food even on the fast casual and quick service circuit.

Consumers aren’t the only ones seeking organics out, either – franchisees are also starting to consider organic ingredients more of a priority when looking for potential business ventures.  One of those franchisees is Michele Orlando who, along with her mother Kay and brother Craig, owns Pizza Fusion’s Hollywood location on West Sunset Blvd.

There were a number of draws to investing in a Pizza Fusion location, says Orlando. One of those draws was its autonomy – because it’s such a young franchise (having only started in 2006) and with relatively few locations, she says, Pizza Fusion franchisees are allowed to run their locations more like a mom-and-pop shop, with less pressure on conformity across the board than a lot of other nationwide chains.

But one of the biggest draws for the Orlando family was Pizza Fusion’s philosophy on using Certified Organic ingredients wherever possible in its pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and even its choices of beverages. The franchise also features whole wheat and gluten-free crust options, and wholesome health-conscious topping combinations like organic pepperoni, the Farmer’s Market with its assortment of roasted greens, and the mushroom and soy-based cheese laden Very Vegan. The commitment to bettering the world even goes beyond the food itself and into other green initiatives – post-consumer recycled pizza boxes and biodegradable spudware utensils, LEED certified structures and energy offsets, and pizzas delivered daily in company-owned hybrid cars.

In short, Pizza Fusion represented a lifestyle that the Orlando family could really get behind – one that they participated in every day themselves.

“Our family has been living an organic, green lifestyle for a long time,” says Michele. “We’ve been shopping in farmers’ markets and doing all that good stuff – we were looking for a business model that matched that lifestyle. It was sort of the best match of both worlds.”

The Orlando family certainly isn’t alone in this kind of lifestyle, especially in southern California where an optimal climate means that fresh organic produce can be found at farmers’ markets year round. It seems logical that franchises would be chomping at the bit to offer customers more local, organic options. But so far, it’s not really happening.

Even franchises that have made otherwise confident strides toward becoming more health and eco-conscious have left organics out of the equation. Starbucks Coffee, for example, has long made a point to source responsibly grown and ethically traded coffee beans, cocoa, and other integral products. But on the other hand, its commitment toward organics has been lacking. For a while, the franchise offered organic milk along with its soy and skim milk upgrades – but the ultra-pasteurized room temperature-stored version of organic milk they offered was neither widely advertised nor received well by baristas or customers. In 2008, the option was discontinued with little fanfare.

“I see a lot of restaurants in LA sourcing local and organic produce,” Michele affirms, “but I haven’t seen it on a large chain level.”

So why aren’t more nationwide franchises going organic? Could it have to do with availability? While places like Florida (where Pizza Fusion is based) and Southern California are prime real estate for sourcing organic produce and ingredients, we wonder out loud if the relative difficulty in states with more varied climates might make it too difficult for some nationwide franchises to keep their locations uniform, leading them to ditch the idea wholesale.

Michele acknowledges that availability might have something to do with it, but quickly points out that the true cause behind a lack of organics in nationwide franchising is much more likely to be financially motivated.

 “I think when you get into larger corporations, the bottom line is the most important thing,” she says. “The cost of buying organics is three times the price [compared to traditionally farmed ingredients] sometimes. In order to keep it affordable for customers, you can’t really have an extraordinary expensive menu – otherwise nobody will come.”

“You’re definitely losing profit by going organic,” Michele admits. But that could all change, she adds, if more nationwide chains got on board. “We hope it becomes mainstream, and we hope that every single restaurant becomes organic – that way, the prices will come down, and it will be more affordable for everybody.”

For now, however, Michele and her family can at least sleep easier at night knowing that their franchise choice accurately represents their daily lives. If their Pizza Fusion franchise can get more people interested in organics along the way, so much the better. After all, she says: “It has to start somewhere, you know?”

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