Why workplace restaurants should put sustainability on the menu

With 76% of millennials considering a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding where to work, today, physical and cultural attributes in the workplace are just as important as competitive pay and progression opportunities. When it comes to recruiting and retaining employees, savvy businesses are paying special attention to factors such as breakout spaces, remote working, ‘going green’ and helping their employees achieve social good.

High on the agenda for employers is combating waste, which undoubtably puts the spotlight on the workplace restaurant, and therefore, catering teams need to feed into their business’ wider CSR goals. Food waste, coffee cups, straws and packaging have all come under increasing scrutiny in recent years so it’s vital that caterers factor sustainable solutions into their offering to ensure the workplace restaurant remains competitive.

Lucy Pedrick, senior insights manager at Bidfood, explores this sustainability challenge further by looking at how it is manifesting in food trends and how caterers can appeal to the rise of the environmentally-conscious worker.

Plant-based diets on the up

“As Veganuary comes to an end, the increasing number of people going vegan means this booming trend is hard to ignore. Of course, veganism goes much further than New Year’s resolutions, the movement has grown exponentially in recent years, driven by health concerns as well as environmental factors. In fact, the total number of vegans has risen by nearly 360% in the past decade, nearly half of Brits (43%) are limiting the amount of red meat they eat and 58% of diners say they are eating more vegetables than they did a year ago.

“With high street establishments capitalising on this by bolstering their plant-based offering, workplace restaurants need to keep pace in order to remain competitive. With this in mind, including a host of vegan options on the menu is a key consideration for caterers keen to appeal to the workforce’s growing desire to be healthier and look after the environment.

“This upward demand for plant-based items is translating into practical food trends that workplace caterers can adopt. Take the cauliflower steak for instance, it’s a great example of how vegetables are increasingly being promoted to the star of the plate. Beans and pulses are also commanding greater presence on menus and, in the workplace setting, make for an ideal on-the-go option when served in a takeaway bamboo bowl. This is also very versatile and can be layered-up with fish and meat for those diners wanting to customise their meal.

“In addition, mock meat is a great option for diners adopting a vegan diet or for those simply looking to cut down their meat consumption, as these products lend themselves well to the latest trends. As such, jackfruit is the latest vegan ingredient everyone is talking about, as it can be shredded giving it a very similar texture to pulled pork, which can then be used in tacos, burritos and burgers. Jackfruit itself doesn’t have much flavour but effectively absorbs marinades and sauces, making it hugely adaptable. Another popular vegan ingredient is mock duck made from wheat gluten; its appearance and texture is similar to shredded duck, which makes it the perfect option in traditional Oriental dishes like vegan duck pancakes, noodles, rice dishes, or broths.

Waste not, want not

“Another big consideration for workplace restaurants is the need to combat waste food – not only from a consumer and business perspective but as a means to engage the workforce and align company values with today’s sustainability-minded workers.

“However, we all know that the shelf-life of vegetables can be limited and, when adding more plant-based options on the menu, the last thing caterers want to do is increase wastage. As such, caterers need to adopt savvy ways to keep surplus food to a minimum. The ‘nose to tail’ concept (whereby chefs are finding innovative ways to serve previously less desirable cuts of meat to combat food waste) can be translated into vegetables too. This involves making the most of the whole vegetable, such as keeping the skins on potatoes or butternut squash, or saving broccoli stalks, for example. These ‘off-cuts’ provide valuable nutrition and, while they may not appear on the plate as the main event, they certainly don’t need to be thrown away. Instead, they can be added to stews, sauces, purées and classic dishes such as bubble and squeak.

“Exploring this concept further, workplace caters can reduce food waste on a larger scale by finding ways to incorporate food swaps such as “trash fish” into their menus e.g. smaller fish, or less popular species that may usually be thrown away after a haul. While cod and salmon remain firm favourites, there is an array of less common British fish that operators can easily introduce such as coley or plaice, that are equally as delicious and more sustainable.

Plastic on the hot seat

“Finally, workplace restaurants reviewing their sustainability initiatives are sure to pay close attention to packaging and takeaway items. There’s been a huge cultural shift in the way we think about the environment and the impact of single-use plastics, in particular. The widely-watched Blue Planet II programme made for some uncomfortable viewing, and consequently, today’s environmentally-conscious workers simply expect products, brands and services to act with sustainability front of mind. In fact, two-thirds (67%) of UK consumers recently stated they would boycott brands that lack an ethical conscience.

“In the workplace restaurant, this relies on providing alternative packaging options, such as compostable bio boxes and bamboo bowls, which help employees to make informed decisions. What’s more, rather than relying on plastic or cardboard takeaway containers, it’s becoming more acceptable for workplace restaurants to encourage workers to bring their own containers into the dining hall.

“With 88% saying their job is more fulfilling when they’re provided with opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues, workplace restaurants would be missing a trick to not communicate their achievements to their workforce and encourage them to get involved too. For example, caterers should consider sending out their menus to employees to promote the provenance of products and ingredients, which dietary requirements are catered for, as well as sustainable cooking techniques used.

“Afterall, appealing to people’s environmental conscience – through menu design as well as waste reduction initiatives – caterers could potentially entice more workers to stay on-site, as well as ensure their own workforce is futureproofed to meet the demands of both the current and next generation of employees.”

By Lucy Pedrick, senior insights manager at food wholesaler, Bidfood

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