Greener Thinking: Making money fighting food waste
Business owners will wince at the mere mention of throwing food away, but it is an inevitable problem. While wastage can be allowed for in foodservice operations, it still dents profit and, with around 8.4 million people in the UK struggling to eat, reducing food waste is a serious issue any way you look at it.
Whether it’s overestimating the demand, poor stock rotation, or the unforseeable quiet weekend, plenty can go wrong when you sell fresh food. Increasing yield is something chefs will pay particular attention to, especially when buying fruit, veg, meat and fish by weight. Until recently, trim, offcuts and skins were relegated to the stockpot in a last ditch attempt to extract flavour for reductions.
Pioneering chefs, like Dan Barber of Blue Hill restaurants, have spent time playing with these discards in an attempt to create inventive new dishes. Carrot tops have been blended into pestos, fish skin roasted until crisp, and beetroot peel manipulated into burgers. By focusing attention on the formerly unwanted bits, the restaurants end up with the choicest cuts left over, which are much easier to work with. This delivers tasty profits as well as reducing wastage and maximizing the gains from those food miles.
Some producers are taking advantage of produce that doesn’t meet the grade for supermarkets, often dealing direct with farmers. Unwanted “wonky” or slightly bruised fruit and veg can be snapped up for a song. This approach works for brands like Rubies In The Rubble, which processes these out-of-shape ingredients into chutneys and mayos.
Meanwhile, butchers like Block & Bottle reduce wastage by creating a profitable revenue stream in charcuterie. Trim and fat that would otherwise go to waste, as well as unusual cuts that remain after breaking down a carcass, can be cured and turned into preserved products for both retail and catering. For example nduja, the spicy spreadable salami that hails from Italy, is often up to 50% pork fat.
Once it’s on the plate, it’s too late. You can’t control the appetites of your customers, but you can rethink your garnishes and make efforts to save scraping so much food into the bin. Does ketchup need to be served in small individual dishes, or will a bottle on the table suffice? Similarly, if you’re not selling out of menu items, or have slow moving ready-to-serve products, then it might be time to axe them and rethink your offering.
The UK’s food industry throws away around 1.9 million tonnes of food each year, so we should give this our full attention – because that’s a lot of money sat rotting in the compost heap.