MAX Burgers on how sustainable food concepts can be implemented in the corporate world

The fast-food chain MAX Burgers is the oldest burger chain in Sweden. In 2011, the family-run business was named one of the world’s 10 Most Innovative Companies in Food by Fast Company. The company garnered a great deal of international publicity in 2008 when they became the first fast-food chain in the world to carbon label their entire menu. MAX’s goal is for every second meal sold in their restaurants to consist of something other than beef by 2022. We spoke to Jonas Mårtensson, Head of Product Development and Head Chef at MAX.

MAX Burgers is taking the world’s first climate-positive burgers to market. What measures has the company taken to lower its carbon footprint?


Since 2008, MAX, among many other actions which decrease our carbon footprint, only uses electricity from wind power plants in Sweden. In 2016, we quintupled our range of Green Family burgers, a collection of vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian burgers with a much smaller carbon footprint than a beef burger. The sales of Green Family meals have increased by 1000% since then. As a result, MAX’s total climate impact has been reduced by 13% per earned Euro over the last few years.


As you mention, MAX’s operations and our entire menu are climate-positive. This means that MAX removes some of the carbon dioxide that has already been emitted into the atmosphere. We do this by planting trees which absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than the products’ total emissions. The net results are positive. To achieve a climate-positive burger we work in three steps:


  • Measure our product emissions – from the farmer’s land to the guest’s hand – including guests’ and employees’ travel to and from the restaurants, along with the handling of waste generated by each meal.
  • Work hard to reduce emissions and add new approaches to continue to make reductions in our processes and products.
  • Capture the equivalent of at least 110% of emissions by planting trees. This means that we go beyond the world’s only independent standard for carbon neutrality – ISO 14021.

Sales of vegetarian and plant-based burgers at MAX have increased by 900% in the past two years, from 2% to 18% of your total sales. Why do you think customers are responding so well to these products?


Actually, the increase is 1000% over the past three years. Most importantly, taste is the key. Burgers are our passion! We devote a lot of time to make every burger taste great, including our green burgers. Our goal is for meat lovers to try a burger from the Green Family range and find that it tastes so good that they want to eat it over and over again.


Your goal is for every second meal sold in MAX restaurants to consist of something other than beef by 2022 (which equals a 30% reduction in greenhouse emissions). How will the ratio of meat, vegetarian, and vegan dishes develop in your menu?


We will continue focusing on the development of our Green Family range and we want to make it easier for our guests to choose something other than beef burgers. For instance, when we launch campaign burgers, which we do five times per year, we always have the campaign burger available as a green alternative, along with chicken and beef. Often, we also lead the campaign with the veggie option, which helps to motivate our guests to try something other than the beef burger.


To what extent do you think the taste of veggie-based products and the consumer desire to make the world a better place will shift purchasing habits at MAX by 2030?


As I mentioned, our goal is to make meat lovers want to eat plant-based meals more often thanks to the great taste of our Green Family burgers. We want to be part of that change and we want to guide and inspire guests to eat more veggie-based food. So we hope that we will continue seeing a shift in purchasing habits based on our guests’ preferences to eat more ‘green’ food items.


Would MAX Burgers ever consider the use of cell-based meat for its meat burgers in the future?


Yes, absolutely – when we find that the quality and taste of cell-based meat meets our standards, we will certainly embrace that option. Clean ingredients, in general, are of great importance.


What can the audience expect from your talk at the New Food Conference in Berlin?


I hope to inspire the audience with the true story of MAX, an innovative food company, in which people, planet, and profit always have been and will be of equal importance. And I hope to be able to share some experience from behind-the-scenes at MAX, i.e. our kitchen and Burger Lab, where I spend a lot of my working hours.


Thank you, Jonas, for the interview.


We’re delighted to be hosting Jonas Mårtensson at the New Food Conference, taking place 21 – 22 March in Berlin. Visit the New Food Conference website for more info and tickets.

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