Each year around 50 per cent of food is wasted globally. Aside from the environmental impacts, food wastage can also affect your bottom line. Tracey Porter explores ways to better manage your inventory.
Of the countless accolades winemaker and restaurateur team Lisa and Andrew Margan have been awarded over the years, there are two clear standouts.
The first occurred when their business, appropriately named Margan, became fully accredited with the Winemakers Federation of Australia’s Entwine Program for being a leader in environmental practice. The second was when their Hunter Valley establishment was awarded the Good Food Guide’s Sustainability Award in 2011 and again in 2014—the only restaurant to twice top the category in the award’s history.
Boasting a tagline of ‘Estate grown, estate made’, Margan Restaurant is, quite literally, the gift that keeps on giving. Producing up to 90 per cent of vegetables and fruit used in its menus on its own property, Margan has adopted a nose-to-tail philosophy and goes to great lengths to minimise its environmental impact through recycling, reducing waste and energy inputs.
On its grounds are free range chickens, Suffolk lambs, beehives for unfiltered honey and olive groves for table olives as well as a specialised dry-ageing room to hang and age its beef and cured and smoked small goods. All menu items are freshly prepared in its kitchens, including soft cheeses, butter, bread and small goods while menus are written based on what is being produced and harvested at the time.
But it appears Margan may be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to food wastage among Australia’s busy foodservice sector.
While exact figures vary depending on the method of measurement, it is believed around 4.2 million tonnes of food waste (including packaging) is disposed to landfill in Australia each year. Of this, around 1.5 million tonnes is attributed to the commercial and industrial sector, costing around $10.5 billion in waste disposal and lost product. The majority of food waste is created by spoilage of food, during preparation of food and as customer plate waste.
RMIT researchers, which earlier this year set up the Watch My Waste initiative to indentify the potential factors behind food waste creation, say restaurants and cafes in Australia throw away nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of the food they buy for their business. The same researchers say the amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by food waste going to landfill is 5.25 million metric tonnes of CO2 every year in Australia—the precise amount produced by the iron and steel manufacturing industries combined.
Graeme McCormack, a director of the Food To Go Association, says Australian foodservice businesses face tremendous pressure to ensure they always have the right stock on hand to meet customer demands, while also trying to minimise food wastage.
“Foodservice businesses need to ensure the food they serve their customers is of the utmost quality to ensure customer satisfaction and return business. As a result, businesses lose money from the amount of surplus food they waste because it is no longer of high enough quality to serve.”
McCormack, whose membership is largely made up of convenience food operators, says this places huge financial pressures on any business, especially foodservice outlets operating with tight margins.
However, the issue of food wastage is not just impacting on the bottom line of foodservice businesses, but is also a wider community issue.
“Beyond the actual value of food, there are also considerable costs to businesses and the community associated with waste storage and removal. This is not only a financial burden, but also an environmental cost. And this is wastage that at the end of the day could be put to better use in the community,” McCormack says.
As part of its 2013 study into commercial and industrial waste and recycling in Australia, The Department of the Environment found unsold product was significant in the retail trade but noted the problem could be lessened if restaurants and cafes undertook more refined ordering of stock to suit requirements, if suppliers would consider taking back unsold stock and if alternative mechanisms for disposing of unused stock—such as food rescue charities—were found.
Despite this effort, food rescue currently only diverts a small proportion of food waste from manufacturing and an even smaller amount from businesses.
Colin Lear, the chief executive officer of Victorian-headquartered mobile food van company Tasty Fresh Food Co [TFFC], says food wastage is an “unfortunate fact of life” for any foodservice business in Australia. While many businesses rightly focus on what can be done to minimise wastage, thought must also be given to how excess stock can help the community, he says.
“Too many foodservice businesses in Australia are still throwing away perfectly good food that could go to needy people, when there are organisations that can help distribute goods to these people, while also creating a giving program that creates greater employee engagement and positive profile raising.”
TFFC puts it money where its mouth is by ensuring that at the end of each working day all excess stock is donated to the Vinnies Soup Van program.
“It represents over 250,000 meals each year, so over Tasty’s 20-year relationship with Vinnies we have donated over $15 million worth of food, both hot and cold, to the homeless and marginalised. Considering this would have been wasted anyway, and we would have had to pay to dispose of it, we don’t consider it a financial burden on the business.”
Instead, Lear says having the partnership with Vinnie’s Soup Vans has helped drive sales and good rapport amongst customers. “Van drivers have commented on the goodwill it creates with customers, increasing repeat sales and customer satisfaction.
Lisa Margan says at the end of the day sustainability really just means adopting practices that enable your business to have a long life—a philosophy that should be a fundamental goal for all restaurants.
“We are an agricultural-based business so looking after the land is a core value as we need it to be productive for the long term. Further to that, we believe environmental sustainability to be a responsibility of every producer and reducing one’s carbon footprint as an individual or a business should be on everyone’s radar.”