Wahacamole helps Mexican street food group win R200 award

By Tom Tanner

There’s a long-held perception that it’s the independent, small-scale, artisan restaurants, pubs and cafés that are the sustainability pioneers and who will lead us to a better food future. 

From the get-go back in 2010, here at the Sustainable Restaurant Association, we took the view that while it was often the ‘small guys’ that would create menus full of dishes made with ingredients that were either homegrown or exclusively sourced from suppliers within a stone’s throw, the appetite for change among groups and chains was greater than people credited them for and the potential impact of this change at scale, was huge. In short, we have always been happy rubbing shoulders with, and more importantly encouraging and assessing the all-round sustainability of gastro pubs and Michelin Star restaurants, as well as group and chain hospitality businesses. 

Hence, our delight when recently asked to judge the Sustainability category for the R200 Awards – celebrating excellence across the multi-site sector. This complements well the same role we play in identifying the winner in the National Restaurant Awards, Restaurant magazine’s roll of honour for the independents – won this year by Silo. 

The eight shortlisted business were all asked to provide details of 2020/21 initiatives to improve their sourcing, their impact on society (both employees and the wider community) and on the environment (what they’ve done to reduce energy, waste and water). 

Reading all the finalists’ submissions was a genuine joy and a reminder that, whether it’s in spite, or because of the pandemic, many businesses have used the last 18+ months not to cut corners and take a backward step, as could perhaps have been expected, but instead really to progress. 

None more so, than the winner of the R200 Sustainability Award 2021 – Wahaca.  

Thomasina Miers’ and Mark Selby’s Mexican street food group has always built sustainability into the fabric of its restaurants, its people and of course, the food it serves. Wahaca has upped its game on all the really big issues. Looking to cut their carbon footprint, it’s made the menu 50% vegetarian, switched to British Halloumi and, to a chorus of media approval, created Wahacamole, made from British fava beans not avocados. 

Anyone ordering in Wahaca food now can home compost the packaging after a switch to bagasse boxes made of sugar cane waste, while a major in-house waste training programme has resulted in industry leading 85% recycling rates. And, because Wahaca recognises that people are the heart of every good restaurant business, they’re working with several organisations to offer employment to people often overlooked in the jobs market.  The group also dished up 50,000 meals for ICU staff in ten London hospitals when they most needed feeding. 

There were a number of other very strong contenders for the award, each of whom really impressed with their creativity and commitment to constantly go further. That includes Homegrown Hotels, owners of The PIG, who switched to an entirely filtered water offer, in partnership with Belu. This helped the hotel group reduce its carbon footprint, slashing its recycling bill and raising £55,000 for Water Aid. 

Meanwhile, Wagamama has, like Wahaca, upped to 50% its plant-based menu offering. It’s also put its mouth where its money is, creating a TV advertising campaign to shout about the shift towards a more veg-based menu. At Dishoom, a brand-new list with 80% of the wines now organic has resulted in very positive customer feedback, an increase in spending on wine and an increase in wine sales as a percentage of total sales – proof that these steps are having a positive impact on business as well as the planet. 

All of the businesses shortlisted for the R200 Sustainability Awards demonstrated the value in creating a set of values and using them as the basis for everything they do, pivoting and innovating in a way that can inspire other hospitality operators large and small.

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