Skinny Pancake Ditches Nutella

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One of Skinny Pancake’s signature crepes; “The Lovemaker.”

One of Skinny Pancake’s signature crepes; “The Lovemaker.”

skinnypancake.com

skinnypancake.com

One of Skinny Pancake’s signature crepes; “The Lovemaker.”

By MARIA KAOURIS

BURLINGTON—Customers clamber to see the menu, kids are raised on to parents’ shoulders to get a superior view and the sweet smell of crêpes wafts through the building.

Vermonters who have been to The Skinny Pancake in Burlington, VT can vouch for the popularity of the restaurant. Garnering over 470 reviews and a hefty four stars on Yelp, The Skinny Pancake on the Burlington Waterfront attracts both locals and out-of-towners. Its versatile breakfast, lunch and dinner options also offer choices for vegan, gluten-free and other diet-restricted diners.

Perhaps one of The Skinny Pancake’s biggest staples is its Sweet Menu. Known for items such as “The Heartbreaker,” a banana, strawberry and Nutella-filled crêpe, this restaurant is described on Yelp as a “heavenly” and “life-changing” experience. Why, then, have owners and founders Benjy and Jonny Adler chosen to remove Nutella, an integral crêpe ingredient, from the menu?

The answer rests in The Skinny Pancake’s roots. Founded on being an ecologically sustainable business venture, the restaurant seeks out the creation of an environmentally safe “food shed” while maintaining a tasty menu. This overarching mission was the impetus to ditch Nutella and confront the product’s number two ingredient—modified palm oil, which is infamous for its detrimental environmental impact. In a statement on The Skinny Pancake website, Benjy Adler explains that the creation of modified palm oil plantations is responsible for the equivalent of 300 football fields worth of rainforest being torn down every hour. With oil palms replacing trees for production of this sugary hazelnut spread, environmentalists have grown concerned about the impact Nutella and similar products are having on the environment.

Even France’s ecology minister, Ségolène Royal, shared in a 2015 interview with Canal+ that, “We have to plant a lot of trees because there is massive deforestation that also leads to [climate change]. We should stop eating Nutella, for example, because it’s made with palm oil.”

Although Ferrero, Nutella’s parent company, has attempted to diminish its ecological footprint, its priority remains catering to the consumer rather than maintaining rainforest biodiversity. With the demand for palm oil plantations expected to triple by the year 2050, The Skinny Pancake has decided to make an impact where it can. Both Benjy and Jonny Adler see it as their collective mission to avoid contributing to this deforestation and to reduce the environmental impact of their business venture.

The importance of rainforests for global environmental health cannot be overstated— rainforests produce over one-fifth of our oxygen, house diverse populations of both plants and animals and help maintain the climate. Although Benjy and Jonny recognize this, they did struggle with reconciling their environmental mission and satisfying their customers.

Concerned about reduced customer satisfaction as a result of their ecological quest, The Skinny Pancake founders reached out to Alan Newman, co-founder of Magic Hat Brewery, Seventh Generation and Gardener’s Supply Company, for advice. After speaking with Newman, Benjy Adler wrote in a blog post that he realized, “Our Nutella conundrum need not be a binary choice between our values or our guests. We can pursue our mission and improve the tastes our guests have come to love.” With this adjusted mindset and the affirmation of The Skinny Pancake’s mission, the Adlers entered into the search for an ecologically-viable (and delicious) substitute for Nutella.

They finally settled on a delectable alternative, which is listed as “Choco Nutty Budder” on the revamped menu. As this palm-oil-free chocolate hazelnut spread made its way onto the menu, the eco-friendly owners added 15 new menu items, abandoned 10, and changed 12. Their desire to rid The Skinny Pancake of Nutella created structural menu changes that gave the restaurant a facelift and encouraged other sustainable practices.

In a Burlington Free Press interview, Benjy Adler reported that, “In keeping with our mission, we dug deeper into sourcing locally. We will be featuring Vermont blueberries on our menu year-round now, and we’re finally joining the movement to celebrate organic Vermont kale in all its glory.” It seems that The Skinny Pancake’s anti-palm-oil kick motivated the owners/founders to embrace the Green Mountain State’s food riches and implement changes that create an enhanced local image for their business venture.

While the implementation of Choco Nutty Budder will soon be appearing on the menus of other Skinny Pancake branches (including the Montpelier, VT and Hanover, NH branches), it seems that there has also been a fairly recent reframing of The Skinny Pancake’s business model. After a company-wide customer survey, the higher-ups of Skinny Pancake discovered that patrons of the Hanover branch desired an expanded non-crêpe menu, a bigger selection of alcohol, and the implementation of wait staff instead of the semi-service model in which customers order at the register after waiting in line.

While the creation of a more formal dining experience has not been as explicitly pursued in the Vermont branches, the changes in the New Hampshire branch signify the versatility of The Skinny Pancake and the owners’ willingness to evolve to satisfy customers while simultaneously maintaining ecological values.

Although Benjy and Jonny were initially concerned with customer satisfaction after the abandonment of Nutella, University of Vermont freshman Sam Brady, who considers herself a Skinny Pancake regular, affirms the general scope of their decisions. In an interview with The Campus, she divulged, “I know a lot of people really love Nutella on their crêpes… but it’s not good for the environment. Skinny Pancake’s environmental choices are very important to me because it helps reduce environmental waste.”

The “waste” that Brady refers to can be categorized as the ecological destruction that results in restaurants ignoring the implications of the ingredients they choose and the way in which they prepare their food. With over 7,200 pounds of Nutella spread used in 2017 alone at The Skinny Pancake, environmentally-conscious customers like Brady see the benefit, and even the draw, of small changes that are intended to transcend the Vermont community and discourage the current production method of modified palm oil.

While some organizations such as Greenpeace claim a boycott will not necessarily affect the problematic mode of production, it is clear that more sustainable food practices will develop if local restaurants cultivate changes such as The Skinny Pancake has.

According to Dan Detora, the director of food services, the SGA has allotted $20,000 for Nutella alone this year in Middlebury’ dining halls. The deliberate choice of local food chains like Skinny Pancake to eliminate the palm oil product provides an example of sustainable food practices that could lead students and the college to follow in similar sustainable food activism.

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Skinny Pancake Ditches Nutella