Substituting disposable products while purchasing costly reusable alternatives are additional hurdles that restaurants and cafés must overcome to successfully relaunch their business. Especially when considering that, apart from private-sector providers, there is no overarching infrastructure that can implement the return-refill system demanded by the legislator. On the occasion of the Sustainable Gastronomy Day, we spoke with three entrepreneurs in Berlin about the long-awaited restart after seven months of lockdown and the ever-growing regulatory and social pressure to make businesses more sustainable.
Our first interviewee is Aymann Azzawi, a Berliner from Syria who founded his company “refueat” in 2016. Starting with mobile street food carts on wheels, he now has a catering business and produces for food retailers. We were at the heart of his business, a small “soul food” snack bar in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Refueat survived the crisis relatively unscathed. This is mainly because Aymann, together with his partner Andy Munser, has built up several mainstays. Through the sale of takeaway food, so-called food bikes, a new online shop and food production, it was possible to compensate for the loss of the catering business due to the pandemic at least partially.
Sustainability as change that has arrived everywhere
For Aymann, sustainability begins with the social dimension of his business concept. Refueat was founded to offer employment to refugees. “Sustainable integration only works if you are part of real life”, Aymann explains. In addition to the strong social component, Aymann also runs his business sustainably in other areas. For him, sustainability must be reflected in the whole concept: “It is change that has arrived everywhere”, he answers when asked about his motivation.
Aymann uses only sustainable packaging in his takeaway and catering business. Since he couldn’t find any products that matched his requirements, he started working with a start-up from Berlin, arekapak. The partnership resulted in containers made from dried palm leaves, an entirely natural product.
Of course, there are aspects that are still a challenge for refueat – in terms of storage, capacity or transport. One key challenge, however, in Aymann’s view, is the price of sustainable alternatives. While the ban on single-use plastics is only a few weeks away, that doesn’t mean that there are already enough alternatives on the market. Even if current studies show a certain willingness to pay on the part of the customers, Aymann is concerned about the concrete implementation of price increases in his company.
Small businesses in particular have difficulties in implementing reusable alternatives
For Aymann, the implementation of the new obligation to offer reusable containers is primarily a matter of volume and logistics. Reusable tableware is difficult to transport on food bikes when catering for up to 500 guests. Depending on the size of a business, there should be corresponding government support, Aymann suggests. Because the market also plays a role here. Many of the existing multi-use concepts are still underdeveloped or too expensive. The customer perspective must not be forgotten either. A circular system must work for everyone. “Just because it works from my side doesn’t mean it will work for the customer.”