Food waste has been a hot topic of late, after the shocking revelation that the UK throws away over 15 million tonnes of food and drink every year. Only 10 per cent of this amount came from the hospitality and food service industry and the retail industry, with the majority comprising food discarded in consumers’ homes, or by manufacturing industries. However, there remains a significant spotlight on the food and drink industry to take action on this urgent issue.
The trend in food wastage wreaks havoc on the environment, to the extent that, if we were to stop wasting all food that could be eaten, the ecological benefit would be the same as if one in four cars were taken off the road. Not only is food wastage damaging to the environment, it also costs the U.K. economy £12.5 billion per year.
Recognising the ecological import of reducing food wastage, plus the business benefits of appealing to ethically-minded consumers, some brands have begun paying attention to lobbyists’ requests. Warburton’s and Kingsmill alike have recently launched ranges of 600g loaves after customers complained that loaves of bread are too big which is why they throw some away. As Love Food Hate Waste report, “Asda reviewed their products and as a result gave us an additional 14,000 days of shelf life across 1,672 products,” and various others have developed their packaging to encourage buyers to chill and freeze products.
Most notable of the businesses trying to combat food wastage are to be found abroad. In Denmark, a charity called Wefood set up the world’s first waste supermarket, and within just 9 months of opening they have now announced that they are opening a second store due to popular demand. The supermarket sells expired foods at prices 30 to 50 per cent lower than they would cost in other shops, and has drawn in both eco-conscious shoppers and individuals with limited budgets that shop on each day’s available products. The products available are based on the donations from suppliers, so stock is not a constant, however, after just six months they had already received over 40 tonnes of food that would otherwise have been destroyed, as The Independent reports.
The rest of Europe was quick to follow, with France banning supermarkets from throwing away or spoiling unsold food, and the UK’s first food waste supermarket is opening near Leeds in September, with food priced on a pay-as-you-feel basis.
It is not just food retail industry players that are set to lose out if they don’t follow suit in reducing their food wastage. According to a 2013 WRAP report, food waste costs the UK HaFS sector an estimated £2.5 billion per year, averaging £10,000 per food outlet each year. As little as a 5 per cent reduction in waste could result in a sector-level saving of £250 million over two years, they contend.
WRAP – or the Waste and Resources Action Plan – define three central points of action as essential for reducing food waste:
· Re-inventing how we design, produce, and sell products,
· Re-thinking how we use and consume products
· Re-defining what is possible through re-use and recycling.
Between 2010 and 2015 in England alone, WRAP initiatives were able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50 million tonnes - the equivalent of the annual carbon dioxide emissions of Portugal. However, more progress must be made.
How can restaurants benefit from reducing food wastage?
In order to improve our food sustainability, both inside and outside the restaurant, the first step is understanding why food is wasted. Love Food Hate Waste explain that the two main reasons why we throw away good food is that we prepare too much or we don’t use ingredients before they go off. Thus, restaurants ought to analyse their average cover volumes on different days and at different times, and prepare a suitable amount of food in advance to cater for only this and a little more to avoid throwing away surplus.
The charity continues to note that the food types most often discarded are fresh vegetables, drink, fresh fruit, and baked goods such as bread and cakes. Dining establishments may therefore benefit from formulating recipes that make use of ingredients such as these in multiple ways after they are at their best. Here are the top five ways we envisage that restaurants can capitalise on the anti-food wastage movement in the future:
Use every part of the ingredient
One particular trend that plays well into the endeavour of reducing food wastage is the practice of featuring many parts of a particular ingredient in a given dish. This tactic can be seen anywhere from MasterChef Professionals to fine dining venues, and it is a fashion that is staying around for a reason. Think ‘duck three ways’, incorporating the meat in a confit, a crispy shard of skin and even a bone marrow puree to get the most out of your ingredients. This is not only efficient, it is highly appealing to the modern diner.
Create new dishes out of imperfect produce
You might also consider using fruits and vegetables to create dishes once they are past their best. It might not be particularly apt to include slightly soft carrots sautéed as a side dish, but there is no reason why these should not be repurposed into a soup or puree.
Utilise one-off specials
If you are concerned that diners will not opt for last-day dishes, consider featuring ingredients that are near their end in specials dishes. One-time specials are a fantastic way of driving orders, and due to the lack of expectation of longevity, these are the perfect platform for using produce that is soon to expire.
Does your fish supplier deliver on a specific day, often leaving you with a surplus that gets thrown away a few days later? Take that day and craft a themed service out of it. Whether it be a fancy fish ‘n’ chips Friday or a steak special offer afternoon, selling specific produce that would otherwise be discarded at a slightly reduced rate will both bring in revenue and reduce wastage.
Many restaurants, from Jamie’s Italian to Michelin-starred eateries, offer samples and tasters to diners on occasion. Creating small aperitifs out of soon-to-expire ingredients is a great way of using up everything in the kitchen with minimal effort. This could be specifically for loyal customers or when the food in question would otherwise go to waste. Create simple tasters such as dips to accompany a couple of pieces of bread, which take little time to prepare but will win you the affection of diners whilst using ingredients and ensuring that customers come back.