Connecting SMEs for a green economy

Should restaurant owners worry about sustainability?

Cem Bektas's picture

Honest Coffees Managing Director and co-founder Wyatt Cavalier believes that sustainable sourcing of catering supplies can make an enormous difference to the restaurant industry. The size and potential of the Fair Trade market in the UK, along with the growing awareness of consumers, indicate positive impacts of ethical sourcing for producers, restaurant owners and consumers alike.

Consumers have a growing appetite for ethically sourced catering food supplies and establishments that make sustainable choices. A recent survey by the Sustainable Restaurant Association found that "64% of consumers believe restaurants are not doing enough to tackle the social and environmental impact of their decisions". Moreover, 56% of restaurant-goers are happy to pay more if they know the restaurant they are eating at is investing in sustainability.

Wyatt Cavalier identifies five key areas that restaurants and cafes should focus on to improve their ethical wholesale catering supplies sourcing:

  1. Local and Seasonal Produce – Choosing local not only reduced the carbon footprint, it supports British farmers and businesses and often results in a fresher product.
  2. Environmentally friendly farming – Look for Organic farmers and suppliers that want to protect the landscape and promote biodiversity.
  3. Sustainable Fishing – Essential due to dwindling fish stocks and increased consumer demand
  4. Responsibly sourced Meat/Dairy – Research into the animal's welfare and support Free Range suppliers
  5. Fairtrade – Support communities and ensure decent working conditions, when buying food from developing countries

So why is sustainability so important? And should restaurants care?

In 2011, a study by Green Hotelier learnt that "92% of people wanted more information about the green credentials of the food they buy." People are more and more interested in where their food comes from and the effect it has on that community.

As the restaurant industry grows to reach £52 billion by 2017, sustainable sourcing of catering food supplies can make an enormous difference.

The UK's Environment Agency found that the restaurant sector scored lowest in environmental awareness, proving there is room for improvement. Restaurants can play a significant part in changing farming systems and improving animal welfare due to their buying power. Farmers and suppliers ultimately produce what's in demand; therefore if the hospitality industry wants energy efficient, environmentally friendly goods, farmers will have to adapt their methods.

Independents vs Chains

Small, local chains and independents seem to recognise the benefits of ethical sourcing wholesale catering supplies and are using it to entice customers away from the mighty high street chains. Working with recognised food standard bodies such as Organic, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Free range helps small business owners give the customers what want. In turn, consumers are keen to seek out environmentally friendly businesses and support their locals. Many new businesses are playing with the marketing strength of buzzwords such as "ethical" and "locally sourced" to stand out from other competitors.

Bigger chains buy in bulk and deal with significant logistics and distribution challenges, so implementing a change to their supply chain takes more time. However, they are rising to meet increased demand for sustainable produce. JD Wetherspoon, which operates over 900 pubs, serves free-range eggs and organic milk. Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Pitcher and Piano serve some local and organic options. Loch Fyne Restaurants, now owned by Greene King, uses renewable electricity across all sites and has a Marine Conservation Rating of 2 for its Fish Buying Policy (MCS).

What does the future hold for sustainable sourcing at restaurants?

The UK is now one of the biggest Fairtrade markets in the world, and Organic/Soil Association products saw a 4% growth in 2014. This adds up to a bright future for the Ethical Sourcing revolution. The more consumers question the origin of ingredients, ask questions about the supply chain and support their locals, the more of an impact it will have on the future of our food industry. As the UK focuses on reducing its carbon footprint and large corporations attempt to show-off their sustainable policies, it certainly looks like ethical sourcing is the way forward.

Nearly all new upmarket restaurants and cafes aim to operate sustainably. A great example of this is the recently opened Think, Eat, Drink in Kings Cross. Marketed itself as "serving ethically sourced British Food, in an environmentally friendly setting", it has achieved immediate success.

What support is out there for sustainable restaurants and their suppliers?

Honest Coffee is a proud member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, and they can't recommend them enough. They're doing loads to put restaurants and supplier in touch and run tonnes of great workshops, forums and info sessions. If you're not already a member, they're worth a look! All the coffees at Honest Coffees are Fairtrade, and many are Organic and Rainforest Alliance certified. They are glad consumers are becoming more interested in responsibly sourced products, and are even happier to help lead the charge with fantastic companies like Rich Sauces. Not only does their coffee taste great, it also means the farmers are getting a fair deal for all their hard work. It is not easy to find a coffee that's both ethically sourced and tastes amazing, however, Honest Coffees think they've cracked it!

This post has been adapted for GreenEcoNet from the Honest Coffees blog.