A young leader’s journey to solve the food waste challenge

EP speaks to Marguerite Velay, Winnow’s Client Success Manager about her experience within the hospitality world and the role of technology to reduce food waste in the sector.

‘Winnow is on a mission to help the hospitality industry cut down on food waste by making the kitchen ‘smarter.’ They connect commercial kitchens to the cloud allowing them to record and analyse exactly what is put in the bin. A team of dedicated and passionate professionals are behind this, but what are the main benefits and challenges of using technology to drive behaviour changes in the kitchen?

With an in-depth knowledge of customers and extensive domain expertise, Marguerite Velay, has changed people’s mentality on food waste. Consequently, she has helped restaurants, hotels and caterers become more efficient and profitable. During a training session in a kitchen site located in London, she shared some of her insights.

Where did your hospitality career begin?
It all started when I became a waitress at Hotel Amour, a trendy restaurant located in the heart of Paris, a favourite spot of many celebrities. I had finished school and I wanted to gain experience and savings to spend during a trip to Australia and North America. I ended up gaining a lot more than money and during my time. I learned about the importance of guidance and communication in a busy workspace. I enjoyed working close to customers, and I was amazed at how everyone knows each other on the Parisian restaurant scene. I realised that hospitality is tight knit community all over the world.

How did you find yourself doing what you do now?
I went to Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, the most renowned hospitality school in Switzerland. During my four years I became the President of the university’s Student Social Responsibility Committee. I focused mainly in waste management, and we worked very hard to make sure an efficient waste sorting system was put in place across the campus. We also planned events to raise awareness on food consumption and soft mobility among students. Following graduation, I moved to India; I had fallen in love with the country and found the best way to know it would be to live like a local.

In Mumbai, I managed a French cafe for over a year, where I was in charge of leading a team of 35 people. One of my great challenges was to make sure we were producing European food using only local ingredients. I then acquired additional operational experience as a Banqueting Manager at the Grand Hotel Kempinski in Geneva.

After these diverse experiences I wanted to find a job that would involve waste management and hospitality. I found this perfect match when joining Winnow! 

How does Winnow’s technology impact the hospitality industry and waste reduction efforts?
Winnow’s technology has disrupted the market in three ways.

First, it has helped the hospitality sector take notice of the big issue of food waste. Second, it has helped change behaviour in the kitchen. Often, Winnow is the first piece of technology to be introduced and it is interesting to see the kitchen staff embedding it into their daily routine. Finally, Winnow’s detailed report is the first tool capable of giving chefs the information to make them drive change and reduce food waste.

What’s the biggest challenge?
I believe that the biggest challenge is always convincing the team that technology will help their operations, allowing them to optimise the time spent in their kitchen. We frequently notice that overproduction is one of the main reasons for food waste in the hospitality sector. Once the issue is identified, the kitchen team save time by reducing the amount of food prepared and preventing it from ending up in the bin.

How do you achieve the collective buy-in of the kitchen team to use Winnow’s technology?
We ask the kitchen staff if they have any data about their food waste. Typically, Chefs can’t put a value against the food wasted daily. After we show them how much food is wasted and the impact that it has on the business, their behaviour changes. In addition, we identify leaders in the kitchen, select them as Champions and teach them how to keep the rest of the team engaged and motivated.

What feedback do you receive from clients?
It is always very interesting when I hear that after receiving our reports, a team has found out that two thirds of the waste happens before the food reaches the customers’ plates. Often, they believe that the majority of the waste comes from their customers leaving food on their plates. Our reports typically reveal that pre-consumer waste is much higher.

Which project has made the most difference to date?
I can identify two different projects. One was a very small kitchen where the entire team did not believe that food was being wasted. They didn’t believe it was possible to reduce waste, due to the challenges of working in such a small environment. The team ended up reducing 25% of its food waste.
The second project took place in a very large kitchen where the staff were wasting a great amount of food due to poor operational control and limited staff engagement. It is very difficult to manage a large kitchen, but the head chef eventually came on board and cut food waste by more than 50%. As the result, this client had a very good return on investment.

What’s your advice for hotels looking to reduce food waste?
What gets measured, gets managed. It is important to know the volume of the waste, and calculate its value. Also, to reduce food waste on the long term, it is essential to understand what is the reason for it.