Time for change

Sustainability is becoming integral to foodservice argues Mark Linehan

 

With customers today expecting to find sustainability in foodservice, Mark Linehan, Managing Director of SRA, outlines the importance of making environmental and social practice work in a business sense

 

Time and again in the restaurant and foodservice sector we hear that sustainability is becoming part and parcel of doing business.

What used to be an optional extra or point of distinction is now an integral part of the offer. The motivation doesn’t matter, if operators can deliver environmental and social benefits while turning a better profit, then that’s great all round – no one expects businesses to be sustainable out of the kindness of their hearts, there has to be a business case. It’s great to see our industry embrace sustainability but, at times, it’s easy to be cynical. Corporate social responsibility policies that talk about increasing recycling rather than reducing waste in the first place, or boast about Red Tractor certification as if it ticked every box, do companies no favours at all and look naïve at best. But there are lots of businesses that really are innovating and pushing the proverbial envelope, and that’s incredibly refreshing and encouraging.

A lot of what’s going on just makes good commercial sense – investment in the appropriate energy-efficient equipment will lead to a demonstrable return on investment (as long as you can get the Capex and Opex people to talk to each other), and treating staff well will reduce costly turnover and improve performance. But times have changed and preparing and serving food to the public requires so much than this now.

 

“There are lots of foodservice businesses that really are innovating and pushing the proverbial envelope, and that’s incredibly refreshing and encouraging”

 

 

Customers used to park their principles at the door – the same people who would agonise about free-range, outdoor-bred and organic as they browsed the supermarket aisles, would suspend disbelief when they eat out. People who would scour the labels of every product they bought wouldn’t show anything approaching this level of concern out of the home. But, increasingly, this is no longer the case. Whether it’s chefs taking over our television schedules and weekend supplements, the unstoppable prominence of local, seasonal and artisanal produce or just the incredible diversity in choice of food that was unimaginable only a decade or two ago, customers’ interests and expectations have changed. And foodservice companies are having to meet this demand.

Customers don’t want business as usual, with a CSR policy on the side, and – with foodservice – being responsible is intrinsic to the business. Doing things the ‘right way’ – sourcing the right ingredients, investing in staff and looking after the environment when possible – is visible and directly linked to customers’ appreciation of a meal and enjoyment of the experience. Better-sourced ingredients taste better, happier staff treat us better. We enjoy a meal more if it doesn’t make us feel guilty, but it’s so much more than that – we can see it and feel it when an eating out experience is ‘good’, in every sense of the word, and we like it a lot more.