AUTHORS: TOM TANNER (Press & PR, SRA) & ADYA RANA (DIGITAL CONTENT EXECUTIVE, SRA)

The Sustainable Restaurant Association today launched Foodprint, its new impact programme to support foodservice operators to track and reduce the climate impact of the food they source they serve.

Kicking of the launch event at the Montague on the Gardens Hotel, SRA Chief Executive, Andrew Stephen made the business case for making the shift towards more veg-led menus and explained that Foodprint was designed to provide a simple and straightforward way to inspire action. “We see our role in this as making it simple for the industry, so you can thrive on a thriving planet. We want to help make you fit for the future as a foodservice provider.”

Andrew said that customers’ shift towards making decisions on the basis of health and environment was only going to grow, aided by the many tech platforms and search engines building these factors into their functionality.

He also pointed to the serious boost many businesses have enjoyed by upping the volume, variety and quality of their veg-based offering – Leon, Wagamama and Zizzi among others. And with ‘cauliflower being cheaper than steak’, higher margins are another serious benefit not to be sniffed at, Andrew said.

Providing staff with greater purpose at a time of serious skills shortages and getting ahead of the risk curve were two further strong reasons for providers to embrace the race to shift consumer diets.

Tim Lang, our keynote speaker, Professor of Food Policy at City, University of London, then issued powerful wake-up call, highlighting that it is unanswerable that food is the biggest driver of planetary overload – resulting in devastating destruction to biodiversity, and planetary resources. Our generation is key in trying to make the world fit for our children and grandchildren, he said.  Whichever way we look at data, it is clear that our food system and eating habits have got to change. He stressed “Evidence is piling up. But what were actually doing is not moving fast enough.”

An interesting though unsurprising statistic that Tim drew attention to was simply that beef is always a terrible thing – using huge amounts of resources as well as emitting greenhouses gases. In fact, it accounts for 50% of water use. “We’ve made cattle into our competition,” he concluded, adding that rice growers are at the forefront of combatting climate change. He seriously advised a switch to more meat-free diets.

 

ylva and aisling with tim lang

 

Daniel Vennard, Director of the Better Buying Lab at World Resources Institute, with whom the SRA is partnering to deliver Foodprint, explained what the WRI has been doing to help businesses achieve the shift towards less environmentally intensive menus.

Daniel explained how the WRI had put a huge amount work into nailing the most effective ways for foodservice to succeed – trawling 5,000 academic studies and interviewing 60 major operators. From these they’ve identified 57 interventions, 23 of which they believe are tailor-made for operators and they fall under five headings:

People, Produce, Placement, Presentation & Promotion

Daniel picked on one of these, promotion, and in particular language on menus. Here again, he reported that the WRI conducted serious research, testing their theories on as many as a million people. The bottom line is that how food is described has a big effect on our response to it. Cookies described as healthy tasted 50% less good than the very same cookies described as unhealthy, for example. And sales of vegan sausages at Sainsbury’s cafes had a 76% boost when they ‘became’ Cumberland spiced – with a focus on the flavour not the simple fact that they were vegetarian.

Armed with the research findings and a larder full of great techniques for achieving the necessary shift, the WRI has launched the Cool Food Pledge – to help foodservice providers to serve delicious food while also slashing greenhouse gases (GHGs).

There are three key elements:

  1. Providers must pledge to reduce GHGs by 25% by 2030
  2. Cool Food Pledge will provide guidance and support to achieve that reduction
  3. Cool Food Pledge will promote the achievements of participants

Daniel closed by saying: “Working together with the SRA to provide solutions, we are confident we can make this a success.”

Next up was our panel of plant pioneer SRA members sharing their top tips for making the shift towards more veg-based menus and how they’re taking customers and staff on that journey with them. Rob Howell, chef at Root in Bristol, which flipped the menu to showcase 10 veg-led dishes with a couple of meat and fish sides (the meat has now totally disappeared) highlighted the importance of wording in your messaging; “we are not vegetarian or vegan, but we don’t serve any meat – so much about meat reduction is messaging!”

Amy de Marsac of Mitchells and Butlers, said their Harvester brand, like Root, also put a lot of work into the power of wording.

Rob Kurz, Foodologist at caterer Artizian said the 20+site operator had always been conscious of its responsibility when feeding its customers with two of its three meals a day. “We are responsible for their wellbeing and so we’ve been working on how to nudge them without telling them what to do for some time. It can be a challenge and chefs can get menu fatigue coming up with new ideas every day.” He said global cuisine was a godsend, providing new ingredients like jack fruit – which incidentally, he said, when served pulled in bao buns, outsold their regular burgers on a Tuesday.

Embracing on-trend food terms like ‘dirty’ helped woo committed carnivores to vegan burgers, said Rob.

Carl Clarke, Co-Founder of Chik’n’Sours said he was super-excited about the launch of their plant-based ‘chicken’ sandwich, the No-Way burger as no one can tell the difference.

Louise Needham, Sustainability Manager of Quorn Foods spoke more about the growth of vegetarian and vegan products in foodservice, with their own foodservice section growing by 20% thanks to Gregg’s vegan sausage roll – 13 million sold since January!

She also echoed the sentiment that businesses will, by making the shift, be meeting consumer demand – with 53% of their consumers actively trying to reduce meat consumption.

As well as working in schools to increase meat-free awareness, they are currently working with some major airlines to increase the diversity of proteins provided on flights.

In response to a question about engaging staff across a large, multi-site business, Amy of Mitchells and Butlers said: “Getting the message from centre to site level is a big challenge, but newsletters, and effective visuals, are a good place to start creating understanding.” They are currently waiting to collate more examples of achievements before hosting a big launch of their initiatives, but have been involving sites in the development stage to ensure they feel they are a part of the process.

Next there were two breakout sessions. One was carried out by our head of membership Ylva Johanesson ‘Getting creative with veg-led menus’. The breakout session began by discussing the barriers to establishing veg-led menus, including sourcing, allergens, lack of education, and social trends e.g. ‘masculinity’ and regional popularity.

It was acknowledged that meat and fish have traditionally been the ‘heroes’ of a menu, and that we need to convey just how fulfilling and satisfying vegetarian dishes can be too.

Some solutions to make menus less climate intensive included:

⁃        Think about how they can be combined with other ingredients

⁃        Seeds herbs and grains high in protein e.g. flax pumpkin seeds sesame seeds buckwheat groats

⁃        Aquafaba chickpea water can be used in meringues etc instead of egg white

⁃        You don’t have to make things taste like meat

⁃        Chutneys that use local produce

⁃        Cut-offs from sourdough can be used for crackers

The other session was “Creating comms for veg-led menus”. SRA Project Manager, Aisling Hayes led the session designed to inspire more effective menu descriptions to encourage the shift in customer ordering behaviour towards more veg-led dishes.

Participants were asked to identify the main barriers to achieving this shift and straw poll of the 30 delegates found staff knowledge and education atop the list. Customer expectations, based on brand perceptions were another barrier, with many not valuing veg sufficiently.

Independent restaurants’ limited marketing resources were highlighted as another potential roadblock.

The SRA’s One Planet Plate is the perfect way to highlight the most sustainable dish on the menu as well as monitor sales of less impactful food, said Andrew Stephen.

The participants then divided into groups and were tasked with transforming blandly written dishes like Vegetable Soup into something that might catch a diner’s eye, have them licking their lips and actually pick it off the menu.

Notes on provenance, taste, texture, seasonality and even a wine pairing suggestion had a transformative effect on dishes that would otherwise have completely slipped under the radar.

Amy de Marsac from Mitchells and Butlers shared clear evidence of the effectiveness of menu positioning too, revealing that olives sold like never before when they’d been positioned at the top left of the menu.

Back to the main hall for the main course…Ylva’s outline of the Foodprint programme and how businesses can get involved.

The three Foodprint asks for business are to:

  • Register your interest
  • Submit procurement data for the most impactful food items (all meat and animal products) – as a baseline
  • Submit every six months

In exchange for this, the SRA with its partners at the Cool Food Pledge will provide a tonne of resources, tools and inspirational case studies to help businesses hit that 25% reduction target – and with a fair wind do so sooner than 2030. Participants will also receive progress reports.

 

 

 

Q&A

Other questions included:

Q: How do you sign up to  pledge?

A: So you join through the SRA Footprint programme, for free if you are under 50 sites. You would then be recognised as a Cool Food signatory too.

 

Q: How does it relate to number of customers per business?

A: You can divide greenhouse gas emissions by number of people you serve. This gives you a lot of freedom as to how to market it.

 

Q: Are all SRA members expected to join?

A: No-one will be forced to join but it’s a collective target so we’d encourage everyone to join!!

 

Closing the event, Andrew Stephen said participants had completed one of the most important tasks – acknowledging their willingness to accept the challenge. Task two, he said was to go back to their businesses and ready their data.

Then, the fun can begin – inspiring teams, creating new dishes, designing new menus and taking customers on the journey with you. Begin your journey to creating a greener planet today, sign up to the Foodprint programme here.