Meals that can help the planet

The Sustainable Restaurant Association has launched a new service to help the industry create meals that cut greenhouse gas emissions, as Mitchell & Butlers and Quorn reveal their latest plant-based moves.

24 July 2019
image credit: Getty Images

Climate-friendly meals are gaining ground as one of the next big trends in the UK as the latest initiative to tackle this area has been unveiled.

Joining the measurement movement is the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), which has launched a new programme to support restaurants and the wider foodservice sector to track and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the food they serve.

Called Foodprint, the programme aims to reduce operators food-related admissions by 25% by 2030 with the SRA teaming up with the World Resources Institute (WRI) who run a similar scheme called the Cool Food Pledge. SRA will work with operators with less than 50 sites, while the WRI will help out larger players.

Businesses that sign up to Foodprint will submit the details of the most climate intensive food items they buy every six months with a focus on meat like beef, pork, lamb, poultry and seafood, along with dairy, eggs, legumes, pulses, nuts, seeds and grains.

The SRA will then highlight the best examples of climate-kind menu innovation, alongside providing tools, resources, support and guidance, including as part of its One Planet Plate initiative.

At a launch event for Foodprint, CEO of SRA Andrew Stephen said the idea was to use science to influence operational decisions by uniting the industry around the same measurements.

“Realising the environmental costs and potential benefits of the food we buy is key to building a great restaurant business fit for the future,” he commented. “In recent years we’ve seen a move towards menus that are greener, including more veg and, significantly, reduced environmental impact. And while some operators like Zizzi, Leon and Wagamama are reaping the reward, the pace and depth of change has been insufficient.”

Leon has increased sales of their vegan and vegetarian meal by 21% and 18% respectively, Stephen added, while Wagamama has enjoyed a 60% rise in the proportion of customers choosing a vegan option.

Using Foodprint would help to drive more plant-based sales, reduce costs as chefs adapt to using more seasonal and local produce, attract new customers and reduce risk, particularly in the current political climate, explained Stephen.

Playing with plant power

A panel from across the food industry also revealed the plant-friendly meals they are have been working on as part of the Foodprint launch.

Mitchell & Butlers head of investor relations and sustainability, Amy de Marsac, said the group tried to track big trends that hit the mass middle market and it was clear the change towards eating more plant-based food was here to stay.

She cautioned, however, that the operator had to be careful about adopting trends that were playing out in London as it may not translate into their regional sites – and the cost to reprint a menu would be £60,000 if a dish wasn’t working out.

But de Marsac revealed the introduction of the Beyond Burger into Harvester sites was a year in the making, being rolled out across the estate 15 weeks ago and so far it is doing really well.

“But there is definitely a consumer perception issue, which going forward as we try and grow the number of plant-based options, we really need to get around,” she said. “Consumers generally we find in the mass market perceive plant-based dishes should be the cheaper option, and this is where we need to innovate and evolve and create dishes, which are actually really appealing and really tasty to help move that mind-set on to actually make that a good option… and make it trendy.”

Also on the panel was Quorn’s sustainability manager Louise Needham who revealed the company was enjoying a 20% year on year growth in terms of supplying into foodservice. One of their greatest successes this year was Gregg’s vegan sausage roll with 13m sold since January, she added.

Co-designing products with operators was an increasing focus of the business, Needham commented, like the KFC Imposter burger, while Quorn was also looking to increase its vegan range, particularly as there is an increasing demand for allergen-free eats but replicating egg was proving challenging.

Chick’n’Sours founder Carl Clarke, which has two sites in London, said he had started looking for a poultry alternative two years ago, but a quality product didn’t yet exist. He revealed the fried chicken outfit is about to launch a plant-based chicken sandwich called No Way as you can’t tell the difference between the real deal. He said it had done well in market testing.

Food can make a big difference

Meat reduction was one of the three essential issues for the sector to focus on this year, the SRA found in its report The Tastiest Challenge on the Planet. One of the expert contributors to that report was Professor Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City, University of London.

He told the audience that food is the biggest driver of planetary overload and the current food culture was not responding fast enough to the dangers of climate change.  

With a quarter of all greenhouse gases coming from food, restaurateurs, chefs and menu planners were critical to helping consumers change their eating behaviours and introducing more diverse options to save biodiveristy, he commented. Big egos and an individual approach had driven the food industry until now, but Lang said it was time for people to come together.

“If we’re going to fix climate change, we have to fix food and that means drastically changing the amount and quality of meat we eat – ‘less but better’,” he explained. “The SRA’s Foodprint programme is a very welcome initiative to help shift the sector at scale towards more planet-friendly menus and positively influence the eating habits of the nation.”

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