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Ingredient Swaps That Can Lower Your Food Costs

As caterers fight rising costs and ever-changing market demands, turning a significant profit margin while remaining competitive is quite a feat. With inflation hitting consumers and businesses alike, prospective clients have adopted an economical approach to event planning. 

In other words, raising rates can only impact your bottom line so much before getting priced out of the market. Instead, trimming back on expenses can have a greater impact on profitability. While labor and kitchen upkeep are often hard to cut back, there are plenty of opportunities to save hidden right in your purchase orders.

By swapping ingredients with budget-conscious options, you can reduce food costs without sacrificing the quality of your meals. Here are a few ways to get started.

Try cost-effective pantry supplies

If you could grow your profit margins by procuring bargain-bin meat and vegetables, would you? Probably not. You want only the best for your star ingredients! After all, the quality of a cut of beef or tuna can make or break a dish. It’s hard to ignore a fatty piece of steak or a pile of soggy vegetables when it’s the centerpiece of the plate!

But beyond those primary ingredients, don’t be afraid to try budget-friendly alternatives for the supporting elements. Grains, vinegars, oils, and baking essentials are all excellent places to save some pennies without affecting the integrity of your final product.

A word of caution: Before swapping any ingredients, run a kitchen trial first! Place a small order for a possible alternative, then recreate a few dishes using it to test for consistency.

Replace store-bought with homemade

Purchasing everything in your inventory might seem convenient, but you can easily prepare many things in-house and save yourself the extra expense. For instance, store-bought stock costs more than homemade stock from bones and vegetable scraps. It’s also more customizable, allowing you to add herbs, spices, and other flavoring agents to make it your own.

Fermented foods are another great example. Kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled onions, and other probiotic powerhouses are popular requests these days. Instead of relying on purchasing these ingredients, do it yourself (see the summer issue of Catersource for more on this topic)! Pickling is a simple process, and it’s easy to prep in bulk. Plus, you probably already have everything on hand: vinegar, salt, sugar, herbs, and your vegetables of choice. It comes out far lower than anything in the store!

Turning kitchen scraps into delicious, ready-to-serve items gives you the dual savings of avoiding an extra purchase and preventing waste of already-purchased food.

Highlight plant-based menu options

High-quality meat and seafood carry a significant price tag, so the rise in popularity of plant-based alternatives shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, it’s time to let go of the misconception that plant-based proteins are substandard to animal-based proteins.

Much like meat, plant-based proteins—lentils, tofu, tempeh, beans, seitan, etc.—are as good as you flavor them. They are incredibly versatile, adding texture and bulk to salads, soups, pasta, and virtually any dish imaginable. 

While these vegetarian-friendly proteins can be used to mimic meat dishes, they are just as enjoyable when prepared to shine on their own! Additionally, since vegetarian and vegan diets have become increasingly popular, your future clients will appreciate having cost-effective options to satisfy all of their guests.

A note about dietary restrictions

While you can save money by swapping in more affordable ingredients, be certain that it doesn’t cost anyone’s health. To avoid potentially fatal consequences from food allergies or autoimmune diseases, foodservice professionals must always abide by dietary restrictions like gluten- or soy-free ingredients. 

When seeking cost-effective substitutions for clients with dietary restrictions, look for ingredients certified by accredited organizations (e.g., certified gluten-free by GFCO, certified Kosherby the Kosher Alliance, etc.).

Save where you can, splurge where it matters. Keep this motto close as you make food purchasing decisions, and don’t be afraid to experiment with substitutions in the kitchen!


Clint Elkins

Clint Elkins is the VP Sales for SB Value located in Charlotte, NC. Clint, a former professional race car driver, was one of the top motorsports promoters in the country by the age of 35. Clint used that experience and passion for business to launch his second career in a sales and marketing. Outside of work Clint enjoys spending time on his family farm and coaching his two daughters softball teams. Clint is also an avid cook and self proclaimed badminton superstar.