Leading the war on waste with the big players

EP explores the successful partnership between Compass Group, the UK’s Largest food and support services firm and award winning start-up Winnow.

In an industry where customers drive demand and buy-in is required from one’s clients, many companies struggle to undertake serious commitments to rethink their business culture and how it reflects in the market.

However, with customers paying more attention to the social agenda of businesses, there is a need to break down barriers and undertake real actions to drive positive change. This change can happen within the company but it often needs the support of innovation that comes from the outside in order to meet their targets.

Earlier this year Compass Group UK & Ireland published its Corporate Responsibility report, outlining future commitments to tackle food waste and set itself a target to reduce waste by 10% against its 2016 level by 2020. This may seem a bold stretch target, but for those businesses that have signed up to Courtauld 2025 the case for action clearly highlights the need for such ambitious targets:

  • Meeting global food demand for 2050, using today’s methods, could increase global temperatures by 2 degrees, changing weather patterns 
  • Eight of the top 10 countries we import food from are drought prone
  • For every three tonnes we eat in the UK, another tonne goes to waste. We currently waste around £17 billion of food per year.

Waste is naturally produced in kitchens – research by WRAP found that 18% of all food purchased is wasted. In order to meet their 10% target, Compass Group partnered with Winnow to help them optimise the whole supply chain and produce more with less.

Using Winnow’s digital scale and smart meter the team were able to quickly identify where waste was occurring within their operations and make adjustments to reduce waste while still delivering a high quality service to the customer. The daily reporting which details where food waste had occurred, gives the Senior Chefs and Managers the insight needed to make better production decisions, produce the correct amount of food, and reduce waste. The system provides an estimated cost of the waste too. 

Compass originally installed Winnow at The Wellcome Trust – a global charitable foundation supporting scientists and researchers – in October 2014 to help the team measure, understand and reduce food waste. The latter appointed Restaurant Associates (part of Compass Group UK & Ireland) as its caterer for their central London head office in an effort to help the team reduce food waste and Winnow became a central part of that process.

Since its introduction at The Wellcome Trust, food waste by value has been reduced by 70%. Service quality has remained at high standards but with a lower level of food wastage – 4.4 tonnes to be precise. The kitchen is also saving an estimated 19 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, not taking into account the energy saving in cooking less food nor the reduction in water usage in growing, transporting and preparing the food. For the two businesses working together this has resulted in a much lower impact on the environment.

Over the next year, Compass will be introducing this technology into an additional 500 staff restaurants, universities, schools and defence sites across the UK. The caterer is also applying the technology internationally across Europe and Asia where results have also been encouraging. 

Today the Winnow system is saving its customers $8m every year in reduced food waste costs and is live or contracted in over 1,000 sites. Kitchens find on average the Winnow system helps reduce food costs by 3%–8%. It might sound obvious but one of the key indicators of success lies upon the fact that for the first time large scale operations could be measured. Better information collected in a more efficient way enables kitchen and facilities teams to meet waste reduction goals, recording waste in a fraction of the time with assurance that all sources of waste are captured daily.

The heightened employee awareness of food waste means that everyone gets involved in identifying opportunities for waste reduction and can deliver quick results, with teams able to focus efforts on production and service of a high quality dining experience. To achieve this there needs to be constant engagement and communication, educating businesses on sustainable impacts, managers on the commercial benefits of embedding such practices in the culture and day to day work of teams. Perhaps more important is the need for Head/Senior chefs to become advocates for the system, educating their wider teams and ensuring all are aware of the role they play in achieving sustainability targets and the operational efficiency this in turn creates.

Chefs across the industry are incredibly busy and one of the key challenges that the food service and hospitality sector face is accurately recording the real value of what is being thrown away. Recording waste has previously also been a time consuming process but by utilizing technology in this way teams are able to cut this to just 10 minutes per day. Giving chefs more time while helping cut food waste significantly.

Yet, this does not mean it is an easy challenge. As much as caterers would like to undertake serious steps and tackle food waste, they are often challenged by fierce competition. This is why change should not be just about the process but rather about culture and the openness to welcome new innovative ideas that can change the market. For instance, changing how the food is displayed on any given day is a way to present an attractive choice to customers while also keeping waste to a minimum. The identification of specific areas of waste can enable presentation to be tailored accordingly and waste reduced.

What this demonstrates is that large companies with the help of the smaller innovators have the power to promote positive change and drive a sustainable agenda not only in business but also in society. It is important to engage customers and educate them on the impact they can have through the choices they make and the reason behind certain menu choices. If it’s perfectly acceptable to re-use our leftovers at home, is it time that ‘Re-worked’ becomes a word associated with a quality sustainable menu choice, rather than with a perceived inferior quality?

Small and disruptive businesses can play a leading role in changing the culture of large and established businesses. It is only a matter of driving the agenda forward and the two working in collaboration.