Climate positive burgers

Obsessed with being the most ‘green’ brand in the restaurant industry, Swedish burger chain Max Burgers reached the status of a climate positive company in 2018

There are many reasons for Max Burgers to be cheerful in 2018. Not only did the largest burger chain in Sweden celebrate its 50th anniversary on June 14, but it also announced that it had become the first climate positive company in the food sector. In addition, in the past year and a half, Max Burgers opened new restaurants in some of the countries it had already been present, including Norway, Denmark, Egypt, and, most recently, Poland.

In a nutshell, being climate positive means that an activity goes beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions to actually create an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Reputation Officer, Kaj Török elaborates: “Becoming climate neutral is no longer enough. It was the goal of yesterday. The new goal for every brand committed to climate action should be to become climate positive, and this notion is spreading all over the world. People have begun to realise that we cannot reach the world’s climate goals just by reducing emissions, we have to capture carbon, as well. In Sweden, in particular, more and more big companies have pledged to become climate positive in the future. For example, H&M are set to achieve this 61target by 2040, while IKEA are looking to do it by 2030.”

Essentially, now every visit to a Max Burgers restaurant helps improve the climate and the company has taken action in three key areas to succeed in its initiative. “First of all, we performed the most detailed climate analysis in the restaurant industry in the world, including all greenhouse gas emissions in our calculations. In our case, this means measuring emissions from the farmers’ land to our guests’ hands. We also include their travel to and from our restaurants, as well as their waste, among other elements,” Kaj points out.

“The second step for us was to implement various campaigns for the reduction of our emissions, such as using 100 percent wind power and turning used fry oil into biodiesel. More important still, is the fact that we have introduced more ‘green’ burgers to our menu. About 40 percent of our burgers are now not made of beef, but of chicken or fish, or are entirely vegetarian, and they are selling really well. Last but not least, we also plant trees in Africa that absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow. This means that we capture carbon dioxide equivalent to another ten per cent of our emissions.”

Selling more low-impact burgers represents one of the major sustainability targets Max Burgers will be pursuing in the coming years. Kaj details: “Our goal by 2022 is for every second meal we serve to be made without beef. We are not far from the proposed deadline, but if we meet this objective, and I am confident we will, we will have reduced our emissions by 30 per cent in just seven years.

“When we were last featured in FoodChain about a year and a half ago, we had five different ‘green’ options on the menu. Now there are seven, plus our recently-launched vegan shake. We have also released a product called Crispy Nuggets – an organic, vegan, fully plant-based alternative that tastes as good as our regular Chicken Nuggets,” he says discussing the latest items added to Max Burgers’ offering.

Kaj also remarks that two of the giants in the fast food business – McDonald’s and Burger King, have followed Max Burgers’ practices in enriching their menus with more vegan options. “I think Sweden is the only country where McDonald’s have developed a McVegan. At the same time, Burger King has launched a halloumi burger. It is flattering, but more importantly, it is good if we can work together in setting a new standard for the industry. Latest research shows that it could be sufficient for people to eat as much as 100 grammes of beef per week, which will dramatically reduce the pressure we all feel to feed what will be ten billion people on the planet by 2050.”

Cosmopolitan consumers
No profound change in society’s preferences, however, can happen without the bottom-up efforts of citizens themselves who need to first desire a transformation for it to happen. Such seems to be the case in Sweden, where the majority of the locals have taken a responsible approach towards their eating habits. “If you look just at hardcore vegans in the country, they constitute less than ten per cent of the population. Flexitarians, on the other hand, who are people that consume meat, but are willing to reduce its consumption, number more than 60 per cent. It is important that consumers realise the benefits of reducing their climate impact and of eating a little bit healthier.

“On top of that, I feel that there is a connection between social status and food nowadays,” Kaj draws an interesting parallel. “If having the right car meant that you had a higher status 20 years ago, and having the right mobile phone was an indicator of a higher position in society a decade ago, then today, at least in Sweden, a lot of that revolves around the food you consume. It seems that people who eat consciously are seen as somewhat more sophisticated and concerned with their wellbeing. I think similar processes are going on in distinct parts of London, in California, in Berlin, and in some other cosmopolitan cities around the world.”

Earlier this year, Max Burgers opened two new restaurants in Norway, followed by two more in Poland in quick succession. Slowly but surely, the company is making a name for itself abroad, but Kaj admits that it will take some time before the brand is truly well-established in the foreign markets it is targeting. “We know that we have a strong proposition in Sweden, proof of which is the fact that this year, we have won a customer satisfaction award for the 17th year running. We are still relatively unknown outside of our domestic market, though, so we 63are trying to find the right formula that will help us grow our presence in other geographical areas. There are plans in place to expand in multiple countries, and especially in Poland, where we have been very well-received. Furthermore, we will keep growing in Sweden, selling more ‘green’ burgers, and constantly reinventing ourselves and the whole industry,” he concludes.