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THE BIG CHAIN DEBATE: What does it take to create a sustainable catering operation?

James Taylor, Oliver Rosevear and Martyn Clover during sustainability debate at Commercial Kitchen 2019

In the modern world, one issue above all seems to permeate almost any discussion: the need to build for a more sustainable future. And commercial kitchens are no different. Whether it be cutting down on food waste or using more energy efficient equipment, chains across the country have woken up to the reality that they need to change behaviour in their kitchens. At this year’s Commercial Kitchen Show, the Soil Association’s Clare Clark hosted a discussion between three high street heavyweights and FEJ’s Patrick Cremona was there to chart the conversation.

On the panel

– James Taylor, Head of Overheads Purchasing, The Restaurant Group
– Oliver Rosevear, Head of Environment, Costa
– Martyn Clover, Head of Food, Tortilla

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What are your main focus areas when it comes to sustainability within your business and the way you are implementing those?

James Taylor: I’m quite energy focused, so my answers would come from the energy, power and gas point of view. Our main focuses at the moment are around operational behaviour. We use half hourly data from our electricity and gas meters to highlight opportunities for wastage and saving energy. Being a multisite operator, each of our sites has access to this data online, and we also have a data analyst in the office that uses an alarm system to engage with the sites and advise them if they have left something on overnight or they’ve turned something on too early in the morning.

The fact that they’ve got access to that data, and can see the following day the impact that that has had, really helps embed that change. So I would say our main focus for this year is definitely around behavioural change as opposed to kit investment.

Oliver Rosevear: I also sit on the energy side of things, but the waste side of things as well. For the next 12 months, a lot of our focus will be around food waste and packaging, and how we can start to leave less waste in our stores. I think there will be a real interest around how we start to reuse. It was interesting seeing Waitrose announcing their use of reusable packaging in their stores, but we have to think about how we start to bring that into the restaurant trade.

I think there’s been a big focus over the last 12 months around consumer use of packaging, but it strikes me that actually there’s a huge amount of packaging that we use back of house, that we’re not seeing. So how do we start to utilise equipment to really try to drive that forward and reduce our use of packaging, and also increasing the redistribution of food as opposed to wasting food.

Oliver Rosevear says Costa’s procurement team is now tuned into energy performance.

Martyn Clover: Over the last couple of years, a big focus of ours has been on the packaging side of things; the consumable, the front of house, and so on. Now I’m looking more at the back-of-house side of things, and its more kit-focused. We use three or four main bits of kit that do most of our work in the kitchens and they probably haven’t changed massively in the last 10 years. So it’s asking the questions: what is out there? How is technology changing? What are the options we could utilise now that would help from a sustainability point of view?

But balancing that with the fact that having the same kit we’ve had all these years is really good for consistency. What I don’t want is 20 different types of cooker, so it’s a real balance between those two factors. From a behavioural point of view, I think how we work in the kitchen has changed dramatically since I started 20 years ago. The attention to the ingredients we’re using and how we work with them, and also we have a central kitchen which is fantastic for us from a consistency point of view. So it’s how we use that in the most efficient way.

We don’t want to take all of the production out of our stores because it’s really important to me that we’re making fresh food in the restaurants. But at the same time, you can’t deny that having it done centrally is more efficient, so again it’s a balancing act.

Around the targets you’ve set and the areas you’re focusing on, how have you built the business case to enable you to make the changes you need?

James Taylor: First of all, we’ve seen 10 years like-for-like consecutive energy reduction so we’re pretty proud of that, but it makes it harder to keep on reducing. Historically we’ve used rudimentary flat percentage targets, and now we recognise that a good chunk of the estate is optimised in terms of its usage. So this year we’ve decided to do a site or monthly specific target, which means the sites that have performed well historically aren’t penalised and we maximise the opportunity where it still remains.

In terms of the business case, I come at it from a technology or kit point of view. Being a multisite operator, it’s harder to implement things across the whole estate, but it’s easier to get them going because you’re in a position where you can take a manufacturer or a solution provider through our process, which is that we aim to get a free of charge proof of concept, which means the operators are engaged with it.

We know that it works in our restaurants without impacting the operation, and from there we can go to a wider pilot across a representative sample of the estate and we use the half hourly data to prove the impact of the solution. That will be stacked up against a controlled data set of normal sites, and if that all works out then generally we’ll get the investment from the business to push forward.

“I think a really important part of sustainability is that storytelling element, saying ‘this is why we’re doing it’ as opposed to just ‘this is what we want you to do”

Oliver Rosevear: From a cost point of view, we’ve had a reduction over the last nine years on end usage, but I think we’re now reaching that ‘what next?’ stage. I think employee engagement is a really easy way of reducing waste, but is quite challenging when you’ve got 20,000 employees who all have different levels of attitude.

I think how we start to really land that, especially with the turnover within hospitality, is a real challenge. When we looked at how we solve the business case, it’s very much about becoming commercially sustainable. So rather than saying ‘it’s the right thing to do,’ we’ve taken the view of how to try and balance the business but also do the right thing sustainably. One of those key things for us is about working really close with our procurement team.
As an example, when we looked at our back-of-house refrigeration, the way our procurement team used to work is they’d go out and say, ‘what do we need from a performance point of view?’ and ‘what’s the lowest price we’re going to get?

But with refrigeration, you use seven times more cost on energy than you do on the cost of the refrigerator. So it’s about flipping that on its head and thinking about the operational cost, which has really resonated with the business because it allowed us to show saving across the year.

Martyn Clover: There’s definitely been a change in the last few years, where there’s an acceptance that things have to change and the way we work has to change. With new kit, although there’s an investment, it might halve the cook times of products, so that doubles the capacity, and very quickly the business case writes itself. It’s not always the case, but if you look at most of the changes in that way then they make sense commercially, and once they make sense commercially and it’s the right thing to do then it’s easy to make the case.

Martyn Clover says attitudes towards kitchen energy wastage are improving.

How have you overcome barriers regarding engaging teams at a site level, and who is the most important person to make that change?

James Taylor: At a specific site we typically find that it’s the kitchen manager, but it’s got to be bottom up and top down. You’ve got to engage all of the stakeholders that are relevant for the size of your business and find out what they care about, build some sort of guidance and talk to them in their language.

With an area manager or senior operator, talking to them in terms of the amount of chef hours they could save and the amount of extra portions they would have to sell to make that same amount of profit. It starts to get them talking in their language, because they’re used to talking about sales, profit and labour targets so the kitchen managers will be turned on by turning things off and seeing the impact of that the day after through the data.

Oliver Rosevear: I think it’s really important to engage across teams. Everyone has their different motivations, it might be environmental, it might be cost and so it is about making sure that you’re continually refreshing that message as well, especially because of the staff turnover. One of the things we’ve started moving towards is more online and video-based training.

When we used the old school way of doing it, we had these booklets which ended up being doorstops. And you think, ‘how do we really start to engage, how do we start to tell that story about the ‘why?’’ It’s not just what you need to do but also why am I doing it, what’s the benefit and impact? I think a really important part of sustainability is that storytelling element, saying ‘this is why we’re doing it’ as opposed to just ‘this is what we want you to do.’

“We’ve taken the heat from our refrigerators and put that into creating hot water, looking at the whole system as opposed to individual bits of kit”

Martyn Clover: I think there’s been a real change in terms of getting people to buy into this. When you go to store level, you don’t really have to sell it to a lot of them. Most of the time, the majority of people get that we have to change the way we work and behave.

And as long as we’re engaging with them, giving them the tools to be able to do it and not expecting them to be able to solve every issue, I’ve not really seen any barriers to try and overcome. It’s just making sure that it’s coming from the top down and the bottom up.

Could you share your top piece of practical advice for reducing energy, water and waste?

James Taylor: Engage at all the right levels, give them the right tools and guidance to be able to act and then give them the reporting that helps embed it and prove the impact it’s had. In our business we do tend to have a high turnover of staff so it has to be a refreshed message that is on point with the wider messages of the business.

Oliver Rosevear: I sort of agree with the whole engagement angle, right from top down, making sure you’re involved with the finance director and those guys who are going to make those decisions. But also thinking about how equipment interacts with each other. Quite often we’ll change a piece of equipment and we don’t think about the negative impact that might have on other equipment in the back of house.

So, if I look at refrigeration, which is probably the biggest usage, it generates a huge amount of heat and actually how do you start to utilise that heat rather than seeing it as a bad thing? We’ve taken the heat from our refrigerators and put that into creating hot water, looking at the whole system as opposed to individual bits of kit.

Martyn Clover: When I started working in kitchens 20 years ago, the tap was on all the time, water pouring away. That attitude that I remember, not even considering it, even thinking about it, you might as well leave the tap on because someone was going to use it at some point. And the guys nowadays are much more perceptive to you saying, ‘do you know how much water is going down the drain?’

They’re much easier to convince than I would have been 20 years ago, so I think the battle is half way there anyway, it’s just keeping encouraging that message every day. My old head chef used to have see-through bin bags and took the bin bags out to show you everything wasted, and I still do that to this day, and they’re receptive to it. It’s just sometimes a friendly nudge in the right direction.

Tags : Commercial KitchenCosta Coffeein-depthsustainabilityThe Restaurant Grouptortilla
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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