How foodservice is facing up to the food waste challenge

By Tom Tanner, Sustainable Restaurant Association

With food costs soaring, food poverty on the rise and the climate impact of wasted food now accounting for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the economic, social and environmental case for driving down food waste has never been greater.

Worryingly, WRAP reported that food waste in hospitality and foodservice rose almost 20% over the last decade. So, we set out with Fourth, the workforce management and inventory software experts, to find out what the industry is doing to tackle this stain on its reputation, a drain on its resources and a major barrier on its road to net zero.

We conducted a survey of a dozen of the UK’s best known restaurant and pub groups, representing 2,300 sites, and completed in-depth interviews with four of these operators: Nando’s, Pizza Hut Restaurants, The Restaurant Group (owners of popular brands including Wagamama, Chiquito and Firejacks) and Wetherspoons.

The result is a report: The Challenge of Food Waste in Hospitality, which reveals the still gaping holes in some businesses’ defences against waste, showcases individual successes and highlights real areas of progress. This white paper also assesses how ready, willing and able operators are to respond to the much anticipated introduction of mandatory food waste reporting.

With food waste costing the average venue £20,000 a year, and 75% of this being avoidable, readers of the report can discover what’s been working in the most progressive kitchens.

Technology is one key way in which, particularly larger operators, have managed to drive down food waste – at the front end of the business at least. Smart ordering and inventory are two of the leading tech triumphs. Two of the businesses we interviewed, Pizza Hut Restaurants and The Restaurant Group have been so successful in this endeavour that customer plate waste now accounts for 80% of their total food waste – way above the industry average of around 33%.

Training – engaging teams in the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of food waste reduction has proven another effective tool operators reported.

Redistribution – which, through the likes of Too Good To Go and Olio was proving a very successful means of diverting surplus to hungry human mouths, albeit efforts in this direction have stalled in some areas due to both COVID-19 restrictions and the allergen responsibilities introduced with Natasha’s Law at the end of 2021.

The report picks through the bones of plate waste, which, with operators getting a serious handle on spoilage and prep waste, remains a major hurdle and one which some tend to overlook as it’s food that’s been paid for and is seen as being the responsibility of the customer. The report does though feature a very insightful case study focusing on the work The Restaurant Group has been doing with the SRA to identify the major causes of its plate waste and then trial reduced portions of elements of some of its most popular dishes. Fascinating also to learn that simple visual observation can result in a major change. Customers at Wetherspoons were regularly leaving tomatoes on their breakfast plate. Making this an optional extra has saved 6 million tomatoes a year.

The survey of leading operators also reveals that:

  • 90% of operators have food waste monitoring practises in place
  • 45% are conducting regular food waste audits on site
  • Only 10% are using technology to monitor their food waste output
  • 60% of businesses provide staff with some form of training on food waste reduction
  • 100% of participants are segregating food waste from general waste
  • 80% of participants measure all food waste together

When it comes to the long-awaited introduction of mandatory food waste reporting, the four businesses interviewed, expressed a collective feeling that for fundamental, wholesale change, this levelling of the playing field is necessary and in fact welcome.

Juliane Caillouette-Noble, the SRA’s Managing Director, said: “Food waste is a major climate, commercial and community issue. The scale of the problem is immense, but the prize on offer- through serious reduction – is equally huge.

“If the sector achieves the 25% reduction target by 2025, as set out in WRAP’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, it will also slash carbon emissions by 900,000 tonnes.”

For anyone looking to focus on food waste and to realise the prize from reducing it, download the white paper now. You can also stream the webinar recorded during Food Waste Action Week, with panellists including Johnny Lockett from Pizza Hut Restaurants, Jame Taylor from The Restaurant Group and WRAP.

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