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How to cut waste and boost profits

Preventing food waste and lost profits

This article is the fourth chapter of our controlling and reducing food cost series. We look at how much food goes to waste in the industry, its value and the environmental impact. Provide a list of solutions and methods businesses can use to prevent and reduce food waste.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The hospitality and food service industry wastes over 1m tonnes of food annually, costing the industry over £3 billion a year. What’s more, 75% of the food wasted could have been eaten, according to Guardians of Grub.

In the UK, on average, 18 per cent of all food purchased by the hospitality and service sector is being thrown away, and 13% is food that could have been eaten.  

Wasted food is a major challenge, affecting both businesses and the environment. A challenge that, luckily, has some straightforward solutions that can create immediate benefits.

A global study conducted on the restaurant sector found that for every £1 invested in reducing food waste, businesses saved on average £7 in operating costs over three years; there aren't many food cost reduction strategies that can create such a dramatic impact.

The effects of food waste on the environment

Climate change affects everyone, food businesses more so, as they rely on produce dependent on weather conditions. Droughts, wildfires, and unusual seasons directly affect the supply chain and food costs.

Food waste also has significant greenhouse gas impacts. Every 1kg of food waste thrown away creates over 3kg of CO2e. That's the equivalent of 7.4miles driven in a car or charging 365 smartphones.(2)

Customers care about your effect on the planet

The effect of reducing food waste to decrease the food industry's environmental impact is a long-term strategy and, if done right, will benefit future generations.

That doesn't mean your business can't benefit now. According to WRAP’s 2020 UK Trends Survey, 81 per cent of the UK population care about the climate crisis, and 32 per cent see the link between food waste and the environment.

Customers are increasingly drawn to hospitality and foodservice brands they know are taking action on negative environmental impacts. Recent research by Footprint Intelligence found that 66% of UK citizens would choose a place to eat because it serves food with a lighter impact on the planet. Food waste is also a key concern - 69% said they want to hear from pubs and bars about what they’re doing to tackle food waste. This presents sustainable organisations with opportunities to win business. For example, pie-maker and restaurateur Pieminister has set a target to reduce food waste by 50% by 2025. This is in line with WRAP’s Food Waste Reduction Roadmap which aims to help achieve both the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 and Courtauld 2030 targets. Pieminster has also released impact reports and is a certified B corporation. All highly marketable credentials that are likely to attract new customers. 

How to reduce food waste

“The best way to reduce wasted food is to identify your hotspots by tracking what’s being thrown away and why,” explains Eleanor Morris, Hospitality and Foodservice Specialist, WRAP. “Logging your preparation, spoilage and plate waste helps kitchen teams see exactly what’s being binned, which prompts them to take action to prevent it happening in the future. 

“We recommend carrying out a food waste review over a 4-week period to begin with. And the free Guardians of Grub tools are on hand to help your teams get started, from free training to our tracking calculator. This shows you how much food waste is costing you – both in purchasing costs but also its CO2e impact, and how much you’ve saved by starting to measure your daily prep, plate and spoilage waste.”

Only order what you need when you need it

Regular stock checks and live inventory data is the first step to prevent overordering or restocking items which aren’t required.

If you can access current stock levels and view previous demand to forecast, you can increase efficiency by receiving stock at regular intervals. Reducing storage space and the risk of spoilage, additionally, you'll be able to prepare food with fresher ingredients.

To prevent wasted food and time during preparation, consider ordering cuts of meat and fish to specification. Ordering like this will not only save preparation time but reduce the weight of a bin and the disposal costs incurred by a waste management company.

Storing for organisation and preservation

The FIFO (first-in-first-out) method is commonly used and simply means storing the newest products at the back, so the oldest stock items are used first. Your business can eliminate confusion by using labels to display purchases and use-by dates.

Proper storage is the best way to prevent spoilage, regardless of the ordering system, expanding the life span of stock items. Refrigeration and airtight or vacuum packaging are popular techniques.

Using long-life ingredients in the first instance should also be considered. In some cases, frozen, dried, tinned or pickled ingredients can really help by avoiding the spoilage that can occur with more perishable food items without impacting on the quality of the served product.

Create a waste-busting menu

Have you ever heard of 'analysis paralyses’? It's the process of overthinking or over-analysing something, resulting in no action within the typical or expected time frame. 

That's exactly what an extensive menu does to customers. Quality over quantity will provide faster selection and more deliberate choice, resulting in happier customers.

Not only will a smaller menu help customers choose more quickly, but it will also allow you to offer dishes that use the same ingredients strategically. Kitchens can use more efficient cooking methods and efficiently use the offcuts and leftovers if they can be used in multiple recipes.

Giving the customer choice when selecting which side dishes and garnishes to have if any, and offering a range of portion sizes to cater to different appetites are excellent methods of portion control and will reduce the quantity of food returned.

Fewer bin lifts for significant profit shifts

Food waste already represents a cost to businesses in the form of preparation, spoilage or rejected dishes. Additional disposal costs won't help a company meet its profit margin goals.

It's simple, the more waste your business creates, the larger the bin and the more bins you fill. The more bins you fill, the more your business will be charged. Food waste and recycling can cost from £7 a lift, but in many cases, it's much higher.

Waste collection charges don't just affect restaurants and hospitality businesses. Any business location with canteens or coffee shops is subject to bin lift charges.

Separating waste streams

Unlike general waste that goes to landfill and is the most expensive waste to dispose of, recyclable food waste costs less as it can be taken to an Anaerobic Digestion facility, where it is converted into a clean energy source. So, it pays to keep your waste types separate. 

The landfill tax currently costs businesses £94.15 per tonne, so using waste management companies and taking advantage of cost incentives for recycling won't only benefit a balance sheet but will significantly reduce a business's environmental footprint.

Donate food that can't be used but is good enough to eat

Sometimes food waste is unavoidable, especially as your business implements processes and procedures to reduce waste and increase purchasing efficiency.

In that case, why not donate it, so it doesn't go to waste? Preventing disposal charges and its end-of-life environmental impact.

Many services now will help you redistribute your food, whether it is still packaged or fully prepared. Organisations such as FareShare and Too Good To Go are ready to help. For a more comprehensive list, view this resource by Food Made Good.

Final Thoughts

Reducing wasted food is key to delivering on climate change and reducing waste costs to a business. With free tools available and the ability to start immediately, managing food waste is a real opportunity to make savings happen. It needs everyone in the business to be part of the process, which requires creating a waste-conscious culture that promotes reduction and creativity when approaching the challenge. How a company prepares, offers, presents and disposes of recipes is ultimately what will help reduce what ends in the bin.

Understanding your stock, monitoring shelf-life, calculating historical demand and improving the purchasing process can all be managed in purpose-built inventory systems provided with more comprehensive kitchen management systems. Inventory systems provide quantifiable data and analysis that will drive waste reduction, boost business efficiency, and promote a healthy bottom-line profit.

Free resources:

See how much money and CO2e you can save with just four clicks

Take the 15-minute Cost Saving Skills course to up-skill and start saving:

Sign up to the Becoming a Champion e-learning course - this is a brilliant deep-dive into all the ways you can make sure the food in your kitchens’ feeds people, not bins. 

Get recognised for your efforts in protecting your profits and the planet by becoming a Guardians of Grub champion!

Join the #GuardiansOfGrub conversation on Facebook and Instagram to get updates on new resources. And tag @GuardiansOfGrub, #GuardiansOfGrub #FeedPeopleNotBins to join the conversation and share your successes and challenges. 


(1) Source: WRAP, Life under Covid-19: Food waste attitudes and behaviours in 2020


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