Open-access content Wednesday 8th June 2016 — updated 2.38pm, Tuesday 5th May 2020
Food wastage has a deleterious effect on the bottom line of any organisation. Julian Fris explains how to address the issue.
9 June 2016 | By Julian Fris
Recent figures published by WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) showed the true cost of food waste to the UK hospitality and food service sector is over £2.5 billion a year - that's one in every six meals served.
In some areas the percentage can be a lot higher. We conducted some research and found that, in places like universities the figure rises to over 25 per cent; in hospitals food wastage sits at the 30 per cent mark (astonishing given the levels of malnutrition in some patients leaving hospital); and in the business and industry sector or workplace catering environment the figure can also reach as high as 40 per cent, especially when you include hospitality and client fine dining.
Waste isn't just an issue that affects the sustainability of our planet - it also has a huge bearing on the profitability of organisations. A coherent food waste strategy makes business sense and every FM team can play a significant role in driving behavioural change. FMs could follow some well-trodden steps:
1. Identify the problem
Too often, issues such as poor planning, poorly calibrated equipment, lack of ownership, staff behaviour, and poor portioning can lead to an incoherent approach to monitoring and managing waste. Progressive FMs will always take a preventative approach, looking at the whole process to enable them to identify problems in four key areas: preparation, production, service and uneaten food. It's important that a study is carried out at each stage to understand any underlying issues. These studies should include the weighing and tracking of food at every possible part of the process.
2. Analyse results & set out changes
The first-phase research and investigation could throw up many issues along the journey. Some companies also find the measurement a challenge and lack the resources or time to undertake intensive research. Equally, they may want an independent view.
There are various external organisations that can offer guidance and resources to ensure that a deep audit is carried out. There are consultants, lean management specialists or even students from local colleges or universities who could undertake this as a research project.
There are short to medium-term benefits for most organisations if there is sufficient buy-in from senior management and the client team.
Once the baseline data is obtained, companies can introduce techniques and processes such as reduced menu choices, batch cooking, call-order, technological solutions like 'click & collect' or unmanned micro-markets as part of their new approach. It's important to introduce like-for-like techniques that can facilitate benchmarking.
3. Re-run studies & compare
It is critical to assess the impact of these changes where possible. During one project it was identified that almost a third of the cost per portion was being wasted, so 50p in a meal that costs £1.50 was being spent unnecessarily. On a meal budget of, say, £3 million a year, this could be £1 million wasted.
In the healthcare sector we noticed that a slight change to the menu ordering process meant that the company was able save cost and reinvest in handheld technology to take orders, and the ability to improve the quality of the ingredients. Re-running the initial study helped to determine the exact amount available for investment or saving as there is accurate data to use in the comparisons.
4. Set targets
Reinvesting costs saved through a coherent waste plan can also lead to a better quality of service as the focus can be on preparing food that is cooked to order. And more emphasis can be placed on introducing more innovative or flexible products to the location, be it through pop-ups or bespoke speciality counters.
By introducing short, medium and long-term targets, staff will be encouraged to work more efficiently and follow tighter procedures. In one workplace, staff were incentivised by introducing a scheme where a proportion of the savings were paid back to them. This was hugely popular and ensured continued engagement with the programme.
Hidden savings can also be achieved through the better provision of food. A better offer can affect staff nutrition and welfare, leading to more productivity. This approach can not only reduce wastage by over 10 per cent in many organisations, but it has also improved productivity and profitability, enhanced the customer experience, and reduced utilities and food waste disposal costs.
Much of waste control is about awareness. We see staff scraping masses of food into the bin, not realising that this has a monetary value. Make staff are aware of the costs incurred and wasted through poor planning, ordering and portioning. Waste disposal should be through unavoidable waste.
The message starts at the top. Managers need to drive change, as much of this is a behavioural/custom and practice as well as a communication issue. Following the waste studies, they need to put the right tools in place; some of those might be process changes or measuring devices (like Winnow or Chef's Eye), but much of it will be training staff.
Controlled ordering and processing needs to be sensible. In one study we saw that one caterer reduced portion sizes in a bid to cut waste. But it was decreased to below the specified minimum so there were some disgruntled customers. Balance is important.
Tackling waste may initially seem challenging and taxing, but with the right incentives in place, everybody will win with increased margins, reduced costs, less environmental impact and much happier customers.
Julian Fris, founder and director of Neller Davies
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