How the foodservice sector can be part of the climate change solution

From food waste to single-use plastic, the Sustainable Restaurant Association reflects on some of the key environmental talking points from last week’s HRC event

11 March 2020
food wastepackagingplasticrestaurantssustainability

There aren’t too many restaurants or foodservice businesses now that aren’t at least aware of the climate emergency. Plenty are acting to reduce their impact on the environment. There remain though a large number struggling to come to terms not so much with the issue itself, but understanding and defining how they can be part of the solution.

With food production accounting for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, there’s no doubting the positive effect all food businesses can have. With the public also becoming ever more attuned to these issues and demanding of the places they eat in, there has never been a better time to focus on the solutions and the opportunities they offer, in terms of creativity as well as environmental impact.

The organisers of HRC at London’s Excel surveyed all the 21,000 delegates after the 2019 show, asking them for their top priorities for 2020. Sustainability topped the list. Step forward the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) to curate a one-day conference to respond to this thirst for knowledge, practical advice and information to inspire all-comers, wherever they are on the journey.

Employing the same spirit of simplification that the SRA adopts for its ten key area framework, the day majored on four big issues, which, if mastered, can go a long way to making food good. The emphasis was on action, with the assembled brigade of industry pioneers, as well as subject specialists from the NGO sector, on hand to provide the inspiration and information for delegates to return to their business with a newfound resolve to challenges themselves to serve up a better food future.

Recipe for success

For those still unconvinced of the imperative to waste less food (see the cocktail of compelling statistics provided by WRAP), there were stories of success from the coalface of Greene King’s pubs, OXO Tower Restaurant Bar and Brasserie, Costa, Hawksmoor and caterer Vacherin.

HRC sustainability panel
image credit: Sustainable Restaurant Association

Just three of WRAP’s stats probably proved convincing enough for most:

  • Food waste accounts for 8% of all greenhouse gases
  • Out of a sack of 100 potatoes only 25 get eaten in a restaurant, with 31 thrown away before reaching the kitchen and 44 thrown out at the restaurant itself
  • For every £1 invested a food waste reduction initiative, a restaurant will see a £7 return.

Vance Fairman-Smith, supply chain director at Greene King, shared the pub chain’s recipe for success that’s seen it achieve a 28% reduction. The concerted effort included the simple but critical step of introducing colour-coded bins front and back of house, as well as in the pubs’ yards. Vance and his team have also looked to technology in the shape of the Too Good to Go app to ensure none of its popular Sunday roasts end up in the bin and, through simple PoS messaging, have encouraged customers not to load up their plates without thinking, at their buffets, reminding them that they can come back for seconds.

Vance and Vacherin’s Yeshna Mistry shared their delight at being able to tell their colleagues in finance that ‘waste’ was creating a new sales line. The resourceful chefs at the boutique caterer used the sales data from their smart tills to spot that porridge was one of their most wasted items. Now that oat mixture forms the basis of popular protein balls.

This success nudged them to rescue the pulp from their fruit juicing and turn this into banging burger patties. To help make all employees realise food waste is their business, WRAP’s Hugh Jones recommended employers include reduction targets in all job descriptions.

War on waste

The SRA’s Food Waste Bad Taste programme and WRAP’s Guardians of Grub provide the perfect platform for businesses wanting to fire their first shot in the war on waste.

As well as feeding people, not bins, any restaurant serious about reducing its impact needs to decarbonise its menu. Meat and dairy provide 18% of our calories and 37% of our protein but produce 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Adding another vegetarian dish to the menu won’t on its own change customers’ ordering habits or help cut the restaurant’s carbon footprint. Edwina Hughes of the World Resources Institute shared some of the effective and practical tips and tricks from its Cool Food Pledge playbook in the Creating Planet Friendly Food Offer workshop.

Treating meat like veg is an important first step, Edwina advised. That can mean affording it the same value (and charging as much for it), describing veg dishes in the same enticing and appealing language as you would meaty ones and making the vegan options an integral part of the menu. For those starting out on the road to more veg-led menus, five Ps provide a handy guide:

People – engaging staff members and giving them talking points to persuade customers that plant-rich or veg led is a good option

Product – modifying your dishes across all courses and drawing influences from global cuisines that are plant rich

Presentation – redesigning the menu and making your wordsmithery work for you helps bring the veg-led dishes to life, emphasise taste and indulgence, as well as the look and feel of the dish

Placement – changing the way food is displayed. So that if you have a buffet offering, then increase the veg-led on offer and in present it in more prominent positions

Promotion – comms, marketing and pricing – free samples and smaller tasting plates will help put veg front of mind.

Matt Byrne, director of food at Fooditude, revealed the caterer had enjoyed success with veg-led pop-ups and reconfiguring its menus, simply giving veg-led dishes pride of place above the meat and fish dishes. Jonathan Pockett of Pizza Hut Restaurants said they too would be incorporating vegan dishes in the main body of the menu rather than consigning them to a potentially stigmatised separate box.

Getting drastic with plastic

It was the turn of two Irish operators to share their progress on packaging in the Plastics, Going Beyond Straws and Stirrers workshop. Conor Spacey, group executive chef of caterer FoodSpace, decided the best approach for getting drastic with plastic was to go cold turkey. He simply removed clingfilm from the kitchens in their 15 sites and in doing so removed enough to cover Wembley Stadium four times. An equally radical move has seen one million plastic bottles taken out of their canteens, cafes and restaurant.

Ethical water brand Belu is helping operators come to terms with our bottled water addiction while recognising the potential economic implications. One hundred percent recycled and recyclable bottles and filtration installations are helping sate the desire to reduce single-use.

Meanwhile, at University of Sheffield, deliveries from the local Our Cow Molly dairy have looked into switching to glass bottles from plastic. The plan now is for deliveries to be made in metal churns, negating the need for 85,000 four-litre plastic bottles every year.

For more information and advice on making smart rather than knee-jerk packaging decisions, take a look at the SRA’s Unwrapping Plastic toolkit.

With 80% of chefs revealing they suffer with mental health issues, the skills shortage and post-Brexit immigration regime, recruitment and retention of quality staff will be key. There’s never been a better time to ensure your workplace is somewhere people want to come to every day.

Follow the lead of YO! and you could crack recruitment and retention said panel host, Ylva Johannesson, SRA Head of Membership. YO! won the Treat People Fairly category at the Food Made Good Awards 2019 and has reduced staff absences by 40% and turnover by 9% with the introduction of Mental Health First Aiders.

Madeleine Geech, Hawksmoor’s head of culture, and Sandy Jarvis from The Culpeper had top tips for employers keen to stand out from the crowd. Hawksmoor makes its staff five promises, one of which is they will have a good boss, committing the company to investing in their managers and adding the necessity to honour your promises. Meanwhile, Sandy highlighted the benefits of surveying your team to establish the issues that matter most to them.

Whether it’s a desire to go to war on waste, say sayonara to single-use, take carbon off the menu or give their people a purpose, making food good looks like it’s higher than ever on the agenda for foodservice and operators are finding ever more creative ways of making it work for them, their customers, teams and the planet.

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