Food waste has always been an issue in foodservice, but in recent years the stakes have become higher. Not only has food waste moved front and centre on everyone’s agenda — from government to consumers — the economic impact has become equally concerning for operators.
A recent The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste: Technical Report, by Value Chain Management International (VCMI) Inc. in conjunction with Second Harvest, provides a broad-scope overview of food-loss waste (FLW) throughout the supply chain — from primary production to consumption including both planned (e.g. bones and shells) and unplanned/avoidable FLW.
Its research estimates the total of both types of waste along the Canadian food value chain equates to 35.5-million metric tonnes, of which 32 per cent (11.2-million metric tonnes) is avoidable. Of that, hotels, restaurants and institutions (HRI) comprise a relatively small portion of these overall numbers at 3.11 per cent of total FLW and 1.44 per cent of potentially avoidable FLW. Despite the low ratio, that percentage represents a significant dollar value for the industry of $7.14 billion annually.
While there are many components to the food-waste equation, kitchen food waste in particular encompasses both pre-consumption activities (cold-chain management, food prepared but not served, overstocking ingredients), post-consumption (uneaten food returned to the kitchen) and unsold food (such as from buffets).
A promising note is a majority of operators are putting their best efforts into managing food waste. According to Restaurants Canada’s Foodservice Facts 2019 report, eight out of 10 restaurant operators mentioned increasing environmentally sustainable operations are essential to the success of their business. When it comes to food waste specifically, 77 per cent stated they track, compost or donate leftover food, among other sustainable initiatives.
Food waste is not just a sustainability/environmental issue — it’s also an important economic factor for operators. In other research, VCMI reports a one-per-cent reduction in food waste can lead to the equivalent of a four-per-cent increase in profits.
“What we’re seeing now is that food waste is a profit sector,” says James Rilett, vice-president, Central Canada for Restaurants Canada in Toronto. “Restaurants don’t take the issue lightly because it’s the difference between making money or not. Operators are now taking the time to look at all their costs — and one of the first is wasting food, whether it’s cooking too much, not trimming enough or poor planning.”
One thing people can easily do is plan to manage food better, he adds. It’s an exercise that requires a multi-faceted approach, including sourcing practices, menu adjustments, technology investment and process changes. “It’s not simply reducing what you do all the time, such as reducing the size of your orders,” Rilett says. “You have to look at monthly sales, see what’s coming back on the plates and left over in inventory and examine your disposal practises.”
While other sectors, such as grocery, may dominate the food-waste charts, for the foodservice industry it’s a matter of survival, he stresses. “The difference is, to us it’s cash in our pockets. Managing food waste is an easy way to check that box.”
Written by Denise Deveau