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The Future of Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry

Thursday, October 26, 2017
Table of Contents

The Sustainability Movement

There is no doubt that sustainability has taken center-stage in the hospitality industry within the last decade.  Demand for sustainable produce, meats, commercial goods, and commodities has reached an all-time high, and forward-thinking food and beverage operators have taken to tech solutions to alleviate some of the pressure of explicit consumer demand.  In an economy that’s been modified by tech over the last 50 years, the hospitality industry remains a time capsule for the way business used to be done.  Pencil and paper are the tools of choice to many restaurant owners and wholesalers alike.  That’s starting to change.   

When it comes to food and beverage operators and manufacturers in the hospitality industry, the last decade has truly tested their grit and ability to adapt by optimizing their supply chain.  The fundamental issue with sustainability in the hospitality industry lies in the challenge that comes with optimizing inventory.  Operators in this industry are responsible for moving such immense amounts of inventory that it seems near impossible to not waste a single item.  

There is an unspoken certainty that operation managers have when it comes to food waste, and that’s the fact that not every item will make it onto the plate.  Whether the product be misshapen or not sold before it’s perishability clock runs out, a vast amount of food finds itself in the garbage by the end of the night. In fact, the US is the leading nation in food wasted.  Between of 30% and 40% of what is grown in the US is thrown away, which amounts to 133 billion pounds of food annually.  Food manufacturers have optimized their production cycle and supply chain to such an extent that the average modern farmer feeds about 155 people worldwide.  Back in 1960, that number was 25.8.  Combine that with extremely low prices, and you have a national community that’s lost it’s value for food.  It’s become an expendable commodity that doesn’t require consumer responsibility because there will always be more.

The Impact of Sustainability Campaigns

The majority of food waste occurs at two levels, commercial and buyer. In fact, 43% and 40% of total wasted comes from these sources respectively.  In order to gain deeper insight into the Buyer level BlueCart, a SaaS business solution app for Buyers and Supplier in the hospitality industry, ran a case study with three well-known chefs  to measure the efforts of professionals to curb food waste.  With ultimate sustainability in mind, BlueCart followed chefs Tim Ma, Jehangir Mehta, and Tanya Holland through their restaurant to measure the lengths that chefs go to in order to promote sustainability to their staff and customers alike.  They called the project Zero Waste Kitchen.

For perspective, 84.3% of food that’s wasted each year in restaurants alone ends up being tossed out.  Just 14.3% of that amount is recycled.  The goal of Zero Waste Kitchen was to find out what restaurants were doing right.  What were these restaurants doing to achieve such high levels of sustainability that were so uncommon?  Not only were the solutions easily replicable at every restaurant, hotel, and corporate kitchen, but also at the commercial level, meaning the takeaways from this project could be used to impact over 80% of food wasted in the US.

Chef Mehta has found success in using every bit of food that comes through his kitchen at Graffitti Earth.  This requires a certain degree of creativity.  In order to approach zero waste, Chef Mehta creates soup and stock out of every chopped bit of produce that most people wouldn’t even consider not tossing out.  “Any trimmings of anything go into a pot, and we make soup with it.” said Mehta during an interview with Food Business News. Any other leftover ingredients are used by Mehta and his staff to fill dumplings. “We make close to 700 to 1,000 dumplings with all the food that was left over.”  Not only is Mehta able to promote sustainability as a way to gain new business, but he’s also able to reduce his costs  substantially by getting so much value out of each ingredient.  In an industry that is infamous for it’s slim margins, Chef Mehta has found a viable strategy for widening his revenue stream.

Food waste prevention and recovery programs like Zero Waste Kitchen are surfacing all over the world.  On one hand, you have influencer and thought leader chefs like Dan Barber of Blue Hill Restaurant who are creating sustainability campaigns around solving the issue of waste in the restaurant industry.  On the other hand, you have entire conventions and summits dedicated to combining tech and food solutions with the ultimate goal of creating a sustainable futures for farmers, restaurateurs, and wholesalers alike.  Events like Seeds & Chips, who’s 2017 show featured Former President Obama as the keynote speaking for a sustainable future, and Future Food Tech are paving the way for food industry and food tech professionals alike to have a discussion on how we can move the needle towards sustainability.

Where is Sustainability Trending?

There is simply more food available to be wasted in this modern era.  Food manufacturers have optimized production to such an extent that it’s become a challenge for buyers and consumers alike to make use of every product.  We as a community have been conditioned to expect another plate of food to replace the one we just tossed out within a rather short window of time.  In order to reduce the 60 million tons of produce that we waste every year, our responsibilities need to be more robust than using every part of the vegetable or mixing and matching unused food.  We need to fundamentally change the way we value food.  Especially in the last decade, the US has fostered a culture of waste that has reached the tipping point between food that is wasted and food that is pust to good use.  Yet, there is a silver lining for the overbearing stormcloud that is food waste in the U.S.

The conversation has started.  Millennials, who spend 44% of their food dollars on dining out, are beginning to get involved with food waste initiatives and sustainability measures which paints a brighter picture for our future than recent years would suggest.  People are working in conjunction with tech on both consumer and Buyer levels.  Apps, software, and platforms that track food waste and provide actionable solutions are rising in popularity across the board.  But where did this wave of consumer preference comes from?  

Simply put, sustainability became “cool”.  With mounting threats like climate change becoming the centerpiece in both political and societal climates, sustainability has forced it’s way to the forefront of the conversation.  We as a global community are now in full throttle when it comes to building solutions for issues that threaten our sustainability. Growing your own food, caring about what ends up on your plate, and eating “ugly” vegetables are the new trends for the exceedingly popular sustainability movement.  The outcome of these practices are yet to be seen, but it’s reasonable expect 2017 to yield more promising numbers that involve the sheer amount of food we toss out.  There is an undeniably long road ahead of us, but the current shift in attitude in favor of sustainability is the first step in achieving progressive food waste results.