Can Tech Tackle Hospitality's Billion-pound Waste Issue?Prask Sutton, Founder & CEO of Onvi looks at the environmental impact of food wastage
Food wastage and its environmental impact, particularly in developed countries, is a major problem in today's world. Globally, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year, equating to one-third of all food produced for human consumption. The UNEP Food Waste Index Report estimates 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be associated with this food wastage.
To tackle the problem from a business level, one must understand how food wastage happens in their operations and include plans to tackle food wastage as part of their strategies.
How does it happen? Well, the food we eat often has a long way to travel before ending up on our plates. So when we waste food, we also waste the energy, resources, and the associated carbon emissions which go into its production. Food waste that ends up in landfills generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. To put it in perspective, if food wastage were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter after China and the USA.
In the UK, the government has stepped up its campaign to rally collaborative action across the entire food chain with The Courtauld Commitment and set the ambitious goal to reduce our food waste per capita by 20% by 2025. No one can deny the sheer scale of the challenge ahead, with the hospitality and foodservice sector firmly in the spotlight as one of the biggest culprits. According to Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the industry produces over 1 million tonnes of food waste each year.
The industry is notoriously plagued with rising costs, skill shortages, and supply chain issues which Brexit and the recent pandemic have further exacerbated. For the many small and medium businesses making up almost 80% of the industry, it is also vital to be aware of food waste's impact on not only the environment, but the bottom line. It costs the sector £3.2 billion every year. That's an average of £10k per outlet – money which businesses should see in their profits, not in the bin.
Reports show for every £1 spent on reducing food waste; the average restaurant will save an estimated £7 in costs. And the savings can only go up from there depending on how efficient the restaurant can be. This is a significant saving when you consider it is enough to buy a new piece of kitchen equipment or invest in a website refresh to drive more customers.
Many factors can result in food waste in a hospitality setting. Some of the top causes include over-purchased stock, lack of menu planning, overpreparation and food thrown out to comply with safety policies.
To tackle the problem from a business level, one must understand how food wastage happens in their operations and include plans to tackle food wastage as part of their strategies. Guidelines already exist to help businesses engage in the movement. For example, The Guardians of Grub, a united collective from across the industry, set out the ‘Target, Measure and Act’ principles.
Innovative technology solutions play a pivotal role in transforming how hospitality businesses operate, providing creative solutions for food waste management. Software and mobile technologies enable agile digital menus, promote in-stock items and allow for effective inventory management, contributing to helping businesses ‘Target, Measure, and Act’.
So how can technology help tackle hospitality’s billion-pound waste issue?
Data is King
As they say, “what gets measured, gets managed”, and this is where most food service operators fail when trying to tackle food wastage. Traditionally speaking, the supply ordering process in most kitchens is often met with ‘rule of thumb’ estimates. But the developments in high-functioning operating platforms now readily available to even the smallest independents mean our local connoisseur coffee houses and boutique burger joints can run their businesses with the same level of data-driven decision making as the largest global chains.
From what we have seen, whether using online booking systems or through an integrated order and pay solution, businesses are seeing real benefits in streamlining their customer touchpoints. Leveraging guest data to provide insights into how food is ordered, prepared, and served can help chefs make better-informed decisions on the quantity of ingredients to buy and significantly reduce food waste.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, smart scales and AI-powered waste bins are increasingly popular technology solutions to measure and register food waste and help individual kitchens realise how much is wasted. Equally, utilising online databases, compliance calendars and Internet of Things sensors can help businesses gather data to effectively stock manage and keep produce fresher for longer.
The impact of digitised menus
Many hospitality venues have offered a reduced menu throughout the pandemic, resulting in less food waste. Studies have shown that menu planning effectively reduces food waste since long menus confuse customers and most likely push them to over-order, contributing to waste generation.
Digitising the ordering and payment process can generate powerful product and customer data, allowing business owners to have greater control over what's on their menus. Understanding what customers are leaving on their plates and why helps identify menu areas to tackle. For example, chips or French fries are the items most likely to be left, so instead of having them as part of an order, offer them alongside vegetables or salads as an optional side dish. Equally, in a pub or bar setting, drink garnishes such as lemon wedges can easily become an optional box to tick for customers ordering via online menus. Not only do these tactics help reduce waste, but you'll also be involving customers in the solution by offering the choice to customise their orders.
Just as hotels can offer last-minute sales on unwanted rooms, digitised menus have given restaurants similar flexibility to go into the backend and quickly create discounts on dishes that aren't moving fast, especially near closing time. So if nobody else is feeling like a spinach quiche today, the customer is in luck—they can get a good deal, and the restaurant doesn't waste food. Any leftover ingredients can be used creatively for a lunchtime special the following day without the need to re-write or print out new specials' menus. This also applies to seasonal menus and promotions such as Happy Hours at pubs and bars.
Businesses effectively managing stock and proactively updating their menu will have better chances at avoiding disappointment for their customers. It's never been more crucial to efficiently satisfy demand on a Friday night when your venue is packed, and customers are impatiently waiting to be served.
People and processes
By law, all food handlers must train in food safety, but this should also extend to how to reduce waste. It’s crucial for staff to learn how to store food properly, cook food correctly, keep the premises clean, and avoid cross-contamination. It’s also essential to understand how human error can contribute to food waste, especially during the order process. One wrong order and an entire plate of food may be going in the bin due to food safety policies. Therefore, businesses should not underestimate the impact streamlining the order and payment processes has in preventing order mistakes, which saves redoing orders and prevents waste.
Consumers are becoming more digitally-driven and socially conscious, and the focus on sustainability reflects how consumers, particularly the younger generation, make their choices. We’re seeing a rise in ‘direct to community’ mobile applications offering businesses an additional channel to get rid of surplus foods. Rather than throwing away leftover food, tap into apps that help you redistribute surplus food to local charities or list it for sale at a heavily discounted price on a digital marketplace. This is a great way to reduce waste, recoup some costs, help the environment, and perhaps turn the new breed of sustainably driven consumers into your loyal customers.
The UK ranks 24th in the world when it comes to reducing food waste, so there is still a long way to go. There is a clear environmental and economic need for businesses operating in the hospitality and food services sector to reduce food waste — given recent pressures on the industry and the evolving eco-conscious consumers, there is no time like now to act.