Summary by Tom Tanner, SRA

Host Natalia Agathou, LWARB

Guests:

Andrew Stephen, CEO, CRA

Arthur Potts Dawson, Chefs Manifesto and Omved Gardens Chef

Grace Regan, Founder, SpiceBox

LWARB’s Advance London Team and the SRA partnered on creating Circular Restaurants: Food that doesn’t cost the earth – a guide to help food businesses, and restaurants in particular, waste less and extract more from the resources they use. On today’s (17th June) webinar LWARB gave a whistlestop overview of the guide before a panel of pioneers passed on their experience of and tips for implementing the principles into foodservice businesses.

Natalia Agathou, Business Advice Manager, Circular Economy, LWARB, said the organisation had been inspired to support London’s 40,000 foodservice and hospitality businesses and help them to climb aboard the circular economy train.

Natalia spelled out the five simple principles of running a circular food business – all of which she said would be good for business as well as for the environment:

  1. Buy less
  2. Buy smart
  3. Use resources more efficiently
  4. Throw away less
  5. Throw away smarter

Food businesses all contribute to air pollution, water depletion, nutrient loss and an increased cost.

As a simple example of the positive outcome for profit and planet, Natalia said the average London foodservice business could save £6,000 a year by wasting less food – equating to a £240m saving for the capital’s restaurants.

The guide, she added, was full of examples of businesses making the circular approach work for them – there are 15 great case studies in total.

The guide also spells out the seven key ingredients for running a circular restaurant and for each one, there are a set of checklists, resources and tools, key takeaways and of course the case studies.

The seven key ingredients are:

  • Food and Drink
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Packaging
  • Facilities management
  • Consumables
  • Transportation

Natalia encouraged everyone to download the guide

The panel…

Andrew Stephen, CEO of the Sustainable Restaurant association had wanted to partner on the guide:

The circular economy approach provides compelling arguments for people wanting to make environmental change to persuade the people holding the purse strings to implement change. And Andrew said, the foodservice sector is a very important changemaker for biodiversity and climate change.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly meant there are greater demands on cashflow but, the guide still contains a number of a key ways of reducing impact that are doable and affordable, he said.

Andrew urged business to use the guide as a tool for checking in on where they are right onw and identifying the things they can do for re-opening.

With Fear of Going Out (FOGO) and major health and safety concerns, it is only realistic to expect higher levels of waste and single use packaging, Andrew added. This makes it more important than ever to put the infrastructure in place to mitigate against these undesirable waste streams.

That means designing menus that use all of an ingredient and partnering with redistribution charities as a starting point for reducing food waste. And when it comes to packaging, a scheme like #ContactlessCoffee proves you can be safe and sustainable.

While they might not always have the most favourable payment terms, hooking up with small, local producers is a good way to capitalise on diners’ desire for greater transparency.

Artur Potts Dawson, Chefs Manifesto member and Omved Gardens chef, said simple tools like this guide were the perfect tool for chefs who are busy but have an appetite for sustainability.

Arthur said he truly hoped that more chefs would take on the responsibility of connecting people with the food in the ground. He said: “If you truly know where you food is from then we are a more food secure place. I want to see chefs more and more connecting to their suppliers and getting the consumer fired up as they’re the ones who make the buying decisions.”

Asked where chefs should start, Arthur said they should look at what hasn’t worked in the past and focus on resilience – supporting local producers and using more gluts were two actions he would recommend.

The two things of which he’s most proud as a chef are encouraging a localised food system and implementing lower energy consumption in his kitchen.

Grace Regan, Founder of Spicebox, a vegan curry house in Walthamstow, East London, founded 18 months ago.

Since opening Grace has looked to up the proportion of organic ingredients. It is financially challenging she said, but the menu is now 50% organic.

As a business with a big takeaway element, the greatest innovation has been to introduce a Tiffin scheme

A guest pays £10 for a tiffin that’s theirs to keep. Whenever they want a takeaway they choose one of the set tiffin menus, click that they have a tiffin, it’s then filled on colelction swapped for a new tiffin with their takeaway.

The tins have been unbelievably popular, have helped drive customer loyalty, reduced packaging significantly and helped educate customers – showing them that sustainable takeaways can be fun, delicious and simple. Grace said she hopes to be able to report on the carbon savings soon and reintro the scheme once fears of Covid have subsided.

Q&A

Q: Daniel in Bogota asked how best to source sustainable meat.

A: Andrew said ‘sustainable’ meat is a challenging concept but certifications are a good starting point. Farm visits are the next best option. And to reduce the footprint of the meat, using the whole carcase and reducing portion size are two great steps.

Q: How can you factor in the real cost of food?

Andrew: Covid-19 pandemic has exposed how difficult it is to run a profitable restaurant with so many external costs like rents, rates and taxes. Diversifying into box schemes has helped some restaurants circumvent some of these externalities.

Andrew’s urged all restaurants planning their re-opening to see sustainability and business growth as bedfellows. To prove this he suggested creating a dish that is waste conscious, veg led and showcases local ingredients and then making this their bestseller. Achieve that and the proof will be in the eating.