How Pizza Pilgrims put 4.5 tonnes of London basil on the menu

As a Managing Director of an expanding, popular pizza restaurant group, Gavin Smith is constantly looking for ways for making the business better – better for the customer, the team, the bottom line and the planet. Being just a dozen sites, Pizza Pilgrims is still agile and positive changes can be introduced quickly.

The issue

Pizza Pilgrims likes fresh herbs and every one of the 35,000 pizzas it serves a week has a handful of fragrant basil leaves adorning it. That adds up to 4.5 tonnes of the stuff a year. And it had all been imported from Israel, Italy and Spain. “I felt uncomfortable with that supply chain. How can you look back on your life and say you made a difference when you’re doing that?” says Gavin.

Potential solution

In 2019 Gavin attended the supplier/customer equivalent of a speed dating event, hosted by YFood. “At the end of a long day, I met Chris Davies from Harvest London which was then still quite a small enterprise growing bespoke herbs and salads hydroponically for a few restaurants in a building in East London. I loved the concept but wasn’t sure they could deliver on the scale we were after.”

The conversation continued, a trial started, tastings were had, stress tests were conducted and prices were negotiated. “As the tests and trials went on, we began to see that not only could we do the right thing by the environment, but we could also make a better basil leaf.”


Pizza Pilgrims are paying Harvest London the same price they paid for the imported basil, but it’s being grown down the road from their restaurants, using LED lights, renewable energy and at least 95% less water is used, and as Gavin stresses, it’s helping create jobs in London. They’ve even calculated that it will knock 240,000 air miles out of the supply chain.

Gavin adds: “We’ve made sure to involve the team in this and all of the GMs and chefs have visited Harvest regularly as we feel this is an important part of the culture of the business. It is one of my proudest moments in business to have a genuinely positive impact on the supply chain. It benefits us on price, it tastes better for customers and it meets the demands of our customers and team who want to see more local produce on the menu.”

By Christmas London-grown basil will have replaced the imported variety in all 12 restaurants which unlike its imported equivalent, has a shelf life of two weeks at room temperature.

The future…

From January, Pizza Pilgrims customers will get to read on the new menu about the local basil and during 2021 Pizza Pilgrims and Harvest will continue their conversation and collaboration. Next on the list for discussion is how to grow a basil plant with less than the 55% stalk tha they do currently.

Gavin and his colleagues will also be reviewing other key ingredients to see if there might be home grown options that taste just as good if not better and don’t leave a bad taste in the mouth because of their negative impact on the environment. In fact, the procurement review won’t stop with food, now the business has tasted success.

“It all depends on whether you want to lead or follow. If you want to make meaningful change then don’t just accept your supply chain. Engage with your supplier and go on a journey with them – it’s about being partners. Together we can be the change.”

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