Food waste: Opportunity knocks for hospitality businesses

With sustainability becoming an increasingly important factor in dining decisions, ReFood's commercial director Philip Simpson explores how increasing food waste recycling in bars, restaurants and hotels could boost customer footfall, as well as reducing waste management costs.

A recent survey carried out by Harden’s for the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) indicated that consumers are starting to put more value on the sustainable and ethical practices of restaurants. 

In fact, the survey of 1,000 restaurant-goers revealed that three quarters valued these credentials more than price, preferring to eat at a sustainable restaurant rather than get 10% off the bill. The surprising results also showed that 90% would be more likely to dine somewhere that actively promoted its sustainability and ethical practices.

It is clear that how a restaurant sources its food and how it manages its environmental impact are becoming increasingly important issues for consumers and, in fact, 95% of those surveyed said they expected these factors to play an even greater influence in five years’ time.

This latest survey proves what many in the hospitality industry already know – that ignoring sustainability issues, or not communicating practices well enough to customers, could prove very costly.

Public attitudes

Restaurants, bars and hotels need to address a whole range of ethical issues. From the local sourcing of produce, animal welfare and treatment of employees, to managing environmental impacts, such as reducing energy, and perhaps, most significantly, the way they deal with food waste, careful consideration is important.

Food waste is becoming a growing concern for consumers. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) Public Attitudes Tracker found that food waste was the second biggest issue across all food related issues for consumers. There is growing demand for the hospitality industry to reduce the food waste it produces and to treat any waste it does create more responsibly.

According to WRAP, the cost of food wasted in the UK from the hospitality and food service sector is estimated to rise to £3bn per year by 2016.  On average, 21% of this waste comes from spoilage, 45% from food preparation and 34% from consumer plates. It is thought that the hospitality sector within the UK produces around 600,000 tonnes of food waste per annum and less than half of this is recycled by being sent to anaerobic digestion or composting.

Zero-waste restaurant

The SRA survey demonstrates that making a commitment to operate sustainably can actually be more profitable for restaurants, bars and hotels and a good example of this is a new breed of zero waste restaurants. For example, ‘Silo’ – the first zero waste restaurant in the UK – mills its own flour, brews its own alcoholic drinks and recycles all food waste by using a special compost machine.

Silo is full of innovative energy, waste and water-saving features, all centred on a ‘pre-industrial’ sustainable food system.  What Silo proves is that not only is it possible for a restaurant to generate zero material waste but also that it is very profitable and incredibly popular with consumers, simply because of its sustainability credentials.

The story of Silo is inspiring and, while many in the hospitality sector may feel they don’t know how to make this kind of commitment, food waste recycling is actually very simple to adopt. What’s more, it will actually save money and not require any upfront investment in equipment.

The belief that food waste recycling is difficult to implement is a myth. Recycling offers businesses a great way to mitigate their waste management costs and make a real environmental difference – with minimal additional operational processes. 

The SRA survey demonstrates a real demand for restaurants, bars and hotels to put in place the right sustainability and ethical practices, as well as communicate them to their customers. Reducing and recycling food waste is an important part of this, making a positive sustainable difference and minimising the impact of disposal processes, such as the generation of harmful greenhouse gases.

Such processes also make strong commercial sense, not only as an important part of the sustainable restaurant policies that consumers now expect, but also because it delivers instant benefits to the bottom line – in many different ways.

Philip Simpson, commercial director, ReFood

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