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How the catering industry can reduce costs by being more sustainable

As a thriving industry with revenues of £1.4bn, the UK catering industry is no stranger to ambition. Traditionally, labour management, inventory and ambience were top priorities for the industry due to the importance of preserving product quality and customer loyalty. However, times are changing and sustainability is now joining those priorities at the top of the agenda.

The demand for sustainability in the catering industry is increasing as more customers base their restaurant choices on responsible sourcing and sustainable business practices. Engaging with sustainability activities could go beyond strengthening customer loyalty though – it could reduce costs too.

Although many restaurants have upgraded equipment efficiency in their facilities today, they’ve only taken the first steps on a long and transformative journey. A recent survey found that 71% of companies reported that the last environmental improvement they carried out reduced costs.

According to the Carbon Trust and Chartered Institute for Building Services (CIBSE), it is estimated that the total energy consumption of Britain’s catering industry is in excess of 21,600 million kWh per year. Around three quarters of the energy consumed comes from storage, preparation and cooking of food and yet, a large proportion of energy is wasted through inefficient working practices and bad habits.

As companies seek to address untapped inefficiencies, smarter management of energy, water, and waste data is becoming a necessity. The industry needs to do more than simply buy new equipment. It must embrace new business models, utilise data collection, and evaluate their operations to holistically incorporate sustainability. The ability to harness massive amounts of data from sophisticated control systems monitoring a variety of equipment brings new opportunities for companies to improve performance and mitigate risk.

The need for sustainability programmes is evident, but even the best intentions will fall short without a solid understanding of your current operations. From introducing waste reduction programmes to energy efficiency equipment pilots, data compose the backbone of long-term sustainability success. Here are three ways that restaurants can leverage data to derive optimum value across their sustainability initiatives.

Watch the waste

As consumers and governments crack down on waste and recycling regulations, catering companies must implement programmes that maximise efficient waste practices and stay in compliance. While certain regulations, such as banning plastic straws, have been making headlines over the last few months, they are slowly rolling out other legislation, including separating organic food waste from inorganic waste. Companies looking to stay in compliance and avoid major fines must first understand their current waste makeup.

By conducting waste audits—scientific studies of waste streams—businesses will understand the data associated with their waste profile, how food waste affects their hauling costs, and where the best diversion opportunities are. Understanding and utilising this output helps catering providers adapt their business models to streamline waste practices and capitalise on their recycling and composting programmes in a cost-effective manner. Beyond scarce resources and environmental consequences, more than half (55%) of consumers say they consider a restaurant’s food waste reduction efforts an important factor when they choose a restaurant.

Invest in sustainable technology

Innovation in the restaurant industry is not a new topic, but companies are increasingly piloting and implementing tools that serve as platforms to explore sustainable operations strategies. Panda Express has created an Innovation Kitchen that, among other priorities, works to maximise sustainability in daily operations. For example, capitalising on gas and water efficiency and savings by installing efficient stove burners and replacing steam heaters at the buffet with induction technology.

Additionally, cloud-connected equipment allow companies to make real-time sustainable adjustments based on transparent data. With ovens and fryers connected, the Panda Express Innovation Kitchen tracks equipment performance in real-time, making the necessary changes to reduce energy output and cut back on costs. By examining the data from this one location, Panda Express can utilise this data scale these changes across its multi-site restaurants.

While investing in new technology is necessary for some companies, simple changes can also make a major impact. Because equipment and building sensors are cheaper than they’ve ever been, and data monitoring and analytics are more advanced, restaurants can avoid massive losses in critical resources and capitalise their return on investment.

Stay on top of equipment performance

Equipment failure and subsequent repairs require costly downtime and product loss. Actively monitoring equipment performance helps catering retailers manage energy consumption and maintenance activities for optimal system performance. This type of monitoring ensures that critical business systems, such as HVAC, lighting, controls, and refrigeration systems, function properly while maintaining a comfortable environment and properly stored food.

To further extend the life of equipment and optimise energy usage, organisations can pay attention to load demands and adjust as needed. The first step is to analyse utility bills to identify the seasons during which the peak demand is the greatest—often the hot days of summer. For many facilities, the largest electric load is dedicated to space cooling.

Installing sub-meters in a small set of the highest consuming sites is the most effective way to determine which equipment is driving demand. Once the contributing equipment loads have been identified, facility operators can identify maintenance needs, operating schedules, or prioritise equipment replacements.

According to Carbon Trust, restaurants that invest strategically can cut energy costs by up to 32% without sacrificing service, quality, or comfort. The ability to capture and analyse unprecedented amounts of resource data holds the key to unlock energy-saving projects, but these projects don’t provide value without continuous monitoring.

Data analytics and monitoring is the new foundation to move beyond incremental improvements to make real-time changes to deliver significantly greater savings. As consumers continue to demand sustainable business practices across industries, restaurants and catering providers must adopt efficiency and sustainability into their day-to-day operations.

Restaurants, now more than ever, need to integrate sustainability and energy efficiency strategies into their business operations and corporate strategy. The road to sustainability is paved in data and without this foundational element restaurants cannot capitalise on all the opportunities these initiatives have to offer.

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