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Love food hate waste

The hospitality and food service sector wastes billions of pounds worth of food every year. What more can caterers, FM providers and clients do to help reduce food waste?

Nearly £3 billion worth of food is wasted every year across the hospitality and food service sector, of which 75 per cent could have been eaten (see References, note 1). The UK is making significant steps in reducing its food waste, with total food waste levels falling by 480,000 tonnes between 2015 and 2018(2). However, sustainability not-for-profit body WRAP says many more businesses need to step up their action on food waste to help halve global food waste by 2030.

According to the statistics, the sector is responsible for 10 per cent (one million tonnes) of the total 10.2 million tonnes of food wasted in the UK each year, with the cost of avoidable food waste varying between 38p and £1 for every meal served. Previous research by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and WRAP across 700 companies operating in 17 countries found a high return on investment for activities implemented to reduce food waste(3).
The average business saving, across multiple sectors, was shown to be more than £14 for every £1 invested by a business in reducing food loss and waste.

Simon Biggs, a partner at catering and facilities management consultancy the Litmus Partnership, has sat on the steering group for WRAP. He believes the main challenge in reducing food waste at work is keeping it on the agenda.

He explains: “Over the past number of years, food waste has been given a real focus and a lot of positive work has been done across all sectors of the industry. Nevertheless, focus can often be shifted away by the latest hot topic, such as reducing single-use plastics, removing disposable coffee cups and tackling health and wellbeing, all of which are important.

“However, in the latest statistics from WRAP, the UK still produces £20 billion of food waste per year, so this challenge isn’t going away and needs to be kept firmly on the agenda. Of course, you’d hope that caterers are still implementing good practice, but the real challenge now is about educating society so that reducing food waste is an everyday way of life.

“This is even more important for the contract catering industry as food provided in staff restaurants can often be ‘budget-friendly’, with a meal being priced similar to that of a sandwich on the high street. In essence, food can be very affordable and therefore easy to throw away as there’s not a huge value on it. The importance of food waste, and how it’s managed, needs to be taught so we understand how it affects the environment we live in.”

From a caterer’s perspective: “Food waste is essentially ‘money in the bin’” says Sally Grimes, Quality Standards Manager at Bartlett Mitchell, “so it’s important that culinary teams have the knowledge to be able to work creatively with ingredients and produce, to ensure they are not wasted and thrown away.

She continues: “To help reduce food waste we run a quarterly workshop called #Wasted. Here we hand out an ever-growing recipe bank to the teams which shows them delicious recipes for items that would usually find their way into the bin, anything from cucumber end pickles, herb stem salsa and oil, braised broccoli stems, core piccalilli or our signature porridge breads.”

“From our experience and in order of importance, food waste reduction is firstly a financial imperative, then ethical, closely followed by environmental”, says Ruston Toms, Founding Director, Blue Apple Catering.

“In 2019 reducing the amount of single use plastics stole the sustainable limelight. However, in 2020 we expect food waste to gradually creep up client’s agendas.”

From the FM’s perspective, Simone Fenton-Jarvis, Workplace Services Consultancy Director at Ricoh, feels that caterers need to ensure “they don’t over-cater in a world of agile working and working lunches, with people planning their own meals and taking leftovers to work to reduce their own food waste.”

Yeshna Mistry, Lead Sustainability and CSR at Vacherin, agrees that the primary challenge for caterers is managing unpredictability. “We have to be able to cater to everyone and have enough choice, even for those who are arriving late in the food service. You don’t want a customer to arrive near the end of lunch service and find there is a single salad left when they are hungry.

“With flexible working, we don’t always know how many people are likely to be in the office on any given day. Some days are more predictable – for example, we see more people working from home on a Friday – but there are events like work parties that we can’t predict, and we might only see half the normal number of people in the office the following day.”

To help manage demand, Vacherin has launched a click and collect scheme via an app so that hot drinks are prepared to order, and they will soon be broadening this service to cover food and smoothie orders.

Ana Svab, Corporate Responsibility Manager, Sodexo UK and Ireland, believes that embedding a sense of responsibility into an organisation is the first step for any food waste reduction programme. “Our sustainability roadmap is fully embedded into the way we do business. We invest time, money and effort into ensuring our teams are engaged and have the knowledge and tools to work with our clients, consumers and suppliers to help reduce the impact our operations have on the environment.”

Sally Grimes advises that buy-in is often better supported through the provision of evidence. “At some sites, we will weigh our waste. We use technology and a set of weighing scales with a tablet dashboard for chefs to take a picture of the weighed waste food. All the data is then uploaded to an online dashboard, where the information can be monitored and compared to look for trends in food waste. In trials, using these systems is proven to reduce avoidable food waste by 23 per cent and help lower costs. If the evidence is right before your eyes, you will do what you can to rectify it.”

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