Among the many new challenges facing businesses in the highly competitive catering industry is an increasing focus on sustainability.
Every year almost two million tonnes of surplus food is disposed of by the UK food industry and producers and service providers are under greater pressure to waste less.
There is also a growing localism movement with consumers demanding more locally sourced ingredients when they shop and eat out to cut down on CO2 emissions.
A recent survey by Bidfood suggested 44% of all spending on food is on ‘out of home’ catering, mainly in cafes, hotels, restaurants, pubs and takeaways, putting much of the onus on food service providers to think more creatively about cutting down on waste.
From the consumer side there is demand for greater emphasis on food waste education, particularly in schools and on personal responsibility. Portion sizing has become an important conversation which is also relevant to the public health debate about overweight and obesity.
Another area that needs attention is addressing the public misunderstanding of ‘best before’ and ‘consume by’ dates which accounts for a significant proportion of waste.
Best before means it can be eaten a few days after this date has gone off, it just won’t be as fresh, and the consume by date is self-explanatory. If more understood this, then we may be able to reduce the food waste problem dramatically.
The dairy sector is affected most by lack of knowledge over labelling. The sector produced 452,000 tonnes of waste in 2015, up from 340,000 tonnes the previous year according to a recent report.
Meanwhile distribution is one of the biggest problems when it comes to creating eco-friendly and sustainable supply chains. Most food products are transported by truck creating two challenges -reducing the distance food needs to travel and upgrading transport to use greener fuel options like biodiesel or electricity, such as the ones Tesla is offering.
Reducing the emissions created by tractor-trailers could help make the process more sustainable, although it would require a large investment to upgrade the distribution process.
For hotels and restaurants, recognising that sustainability can make commercial as well as ethical sense is crucial. Waste products should be going to food banks, not landfill and the hospitality industry needs to think more creatively when it comes to the options, they must become more sustainable.
Being sustainable can improve the reputation of a business, particularly among ethically minded customers and staff are more likely to want to work for an employer which is socially responsible.
A recent research study showed 55% of professionals felt they were in a job that allowed them to make social or environmental impact on the world and, as a result, they were twice as satisfied with their work as those who didn’t.
Business leaders must demonstrate best practice and encourage staff to be creative in impacting positively on the environment.
There’s no sugar coating the fact that being sustainable in the hospitality industry requires effort and some initial investment, but it will also encourage leaders to be more resourceful, make for happier employees and, ultimately, to drive more customers to their door.