Vacherin summons wonky veg army to fight war on waste

London catering business Vacherin is striving to bring cosmetically rejected - but still perfectly edible - fruit & vegetables back into the foodservice supply chain with a three-fold increase in its sourcing of produce that would not ordinarily meet the exacting standards of larger retailers.

In its 2015/16 CSR report, released this week, the fine dining caterer revealed intent to scale-up its ‘I’mPerfect’ sourcing initiative, which makes use of fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be rejected due to apparent cosmetic shortfalls.

Launched in January last year, Vacherin’s I’mPerfect initiative allows the company’s suppliers to send out lists of available produce to its chefs, who can receive it at a slightly discounted rate.

The firm, which operates within central London, sourced more than 3,200kg of I’mPerfect produce from its primary supplier last year, with a target to increase that up to 6,500kg of produce this year.

Sustainability Leader

Vacherin’s sustainability and CSR lead Anthony Kingsley – who won the Sustainability Professional of the Year award at the 2015 Sustainability Leaders Awards – is also looking to collaborate with other organisations in the sector to tackle the problem of food waste.

“We estimate that I’mPerfect accounts for approximately 3% of our produce,” Kingsley explained. “We now have a second supplier on board, and our target for 2016 is to reach 10% of our produce coming from I’mPerfect.

“We have been working with a number of other businesses to create a collective to increase demand for wonky produce, also working with the non-profit Feedback to grow that collective.”

The issue of food waste in the UK was thrown into the spotlight late last year by chef-turned eco warrior Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall whose ‘War on Waste’ BBC mini-series drew attention to the waste caused by rigorous retailer standards and bad consumer habits.

Some supermarkets have since stepped up efforts to reduce food waste, but industry charities have claimed that their remains a lack of fiscal and financial incentives for suppliers and manufacturers to tackle to problem.

According to WRAP estimates, 15 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK each year, comparing to around 41 million tonnes of food that is purchased – meaning that the amount of food wasted throughout the supply chain is equivalent to around a third of that purchased. 

Behaviour change

Elsewhere in Vacherin’s latest CSR report, the company has matched 13 years’ of unbroken financial growth – with turnover now exceeding £15m – with a deepening commitment to a number of environmental and ethical issues.

“Our key areas of direct impact are to reduce wastage and increase recycling percentage,” added Kingsley. We’ve been accredited [by the Sustainable Restaurants Association] as a three-star champion, and five of our operations have received individual three-star awards as well.”

Vacherin sent just 1.5% of its waste to landfill last year, with 71.5% being recycled and anaerobically digested and 27% being converted to energy. The company has set a target of zero waste to landfill along with a recycling rating of 80% by 2018.

Kingsley added that behaviour change and people management are “core strengths” of Vacherin’s approach to sustainable business. As an example, the firm’s ‘Red Meat Free’ Monday scheme – which sees only fish, chicken or vegetarian dishes served in participating sites- reduced emissions by 72 tonnes last year, with an equivalent of 144,000 red meat-free meals served.

Greener Choice

Vacherin has also just introduced ‘A Greener Choice’ for 2016 – a consumer educational tool to offer customers who would like to know how to choose environmentally friendly meals better. This initiative, which incorporates elements of Vacherin’s Red Meat Free and I’mPerfect schemes, encourages consumers to think about the balance between fruit and vegetables versus meat and dairy products.

By the end of this year, Kingsley estimates that Vacherin will reduce CO2e by a further 4.32 tonnes though the ‘A Greener Choice’ initiative, minimising high-emissions food in more than 5,450 meals.

“We offer compelling evidence that you need not decouple commercial success from embedded sustainability – in fact actually the opposite is true,” Kingsley concluded. “Our customers and clients are screaming for more provenance and healthier food – and transparency in how it is made.

“Consumers, employees and businesses want business partners to make CSR commitments. At Vacherin, our passion for responsibly sourced and healthy food has been vital to our success and we want our customers to be just as passionate about food as we are.”

Earlier this year, Vacherin visited an innovative hydroponic herb garden beneath the streets of Clapham, which the organisation believes could provide an agricultural model for Britain to save valuable resources and boost food security.

Luke Nicholls

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