‘Sustainability and ethical catering – the challenges and the successes’

As we progress through 2018, there’s an obvious focus on the environmental impact of companies. From banning single use plastics, to actively trying to reuse and reduce food waste, ethical and sustainable practice is stomping its way through catering like never before. Specifically, within the catering sector, which is renowned for its fast pace and ever-changing trends, companies and employees in the industry cannot afford not to only keep up, but also stay ahead of the curve.

The pressure lies in having to find out what’s exciting, what’s new, what people want to eat and drink, sometimes before they even know it themselves. There are several trends and factors affecting the wider facilities management (FM) industry at present. The Internet of Things (IoT) has begun to impact the FM sector tremendously and I believe that is has the potential to be a real step-change. Even when working in catering, one must always be aware of what’s impacting the surrounding industries. The emergence of artificial intelligence is also going to be hugely transformative – and we’re going to be interacting with our buildings and facilities in all kinds of new ways in the very near future.

What are the biggest pressures for the catering sector?

“Brexit is a massive one; in terms of our people, product availability, cost, and the general uncertainty from a corporate business perspective. Businesses are becoming less likely to commit to long-term contracts and plans, which particularly in our sector can be detrimental to financial forecasting. In catering and FM, companies commonly employ a wide-range of people from all over the globe, and so the uncertainty is impacting talent attraction and retention already. Fresh produce is also being impacted – as they are finding it harder and harder to recruit for their picking season, which is of course making things more difficult for us at the front of the service.”


Can you provide a general overview into Angel Hill’s sustainability and ethical efforts?

“I mentioned earlier about driving to become plastic free – and we’re doing incredibly well at that. We are working with clients closely, and have totally removed all avoidable single-use plastics from one site recently which is absolutely fantastic, and we’re constantly on the lookout for new and exciting products and methods to help us achieve those goals. One thing we have found however, is that there is a lack of alternative products of the same quality and performance, which is somewhat slowing down the process. For example, everyone knows that a paper cup isn’t as sturdy as a plastic cup, but the impact on the environment between the two is vast. In some respects, we’re playing a waiting game for manufacturers to catch up, but we’re being proactive in our approach and have had some fantastic successes in this area.

Another innovative example of our ethical efforts is placing a beehive on a client’s roof, inside a herb garden. Not only to help support the bees, but to provide an organic, sustainable source of honey for the client on that site. We’re very pleased with that project so far.

We have also been working with food waste reduction app ‘OLIO’ to help reuse and reduce any excess food produce, which has been going fantastically so far. In one site alone in Cambridge, we managed to save 1,525 pieces of waste produce, equalling over 600 meals. We’ve also recently partnered with The Trussell Trust to help tackle food poverty, which as a result, means that we can make a difference in the local communities all over the country.”

Are there any stand-out efforts that Angel Hill make that’s different to its competitors?

“Our ‘Goodness’ healthy eating brand is going down fantastically well with our clients. It’s a comprehensive sub-brand that allows our customers to easily identify certain health benefits within our dishes. In the restaurant, it very clearly signposts the benefits of each dish. For instance, if you’re a dedicated gym-goer and want to consume as much protein as possible, ‘Goodness’ clearly marks out for you the best dishes for that. The once ‘niche’ diets such as veganism or high-fiber which are now incredibly popular are supported brilliantly through this. It points to dietary requirements clearly and so it makes it much easier for our customers to choose the dish that suits their lifestyle. The ‘groups that ‘Goodness’ currently highlights include: Fiber, Protein, Vegan, Under 500 and one of five a day. We’ll be adding to this stable as things move forward, so we’re always in a great place to help support our customers’ choices. Our internal road shows also happen throughout the year, which helps us spread our business ethics and what we’re up to. Our fantastic UK CEO C-J does this for a business-wide outlook, but we do this specifically for Angel Hill Food Co. and Catering Academy in an informal and relaxed environment to share what we’ve been up to and gauge feedback with our teams.”

Why is it important for large companies to set a precedent for others to follow, when it comes to ethical and sustainable practice?

“I think when you’re a smaller business, you may not have as much reach as larger competitors, and subsequently, any new initiatives and ideas you wish to share do not spread as far. Ultimately, the bigger your company is, the bigger scale the impact will have. There’s always pressure to innovate, and you tend to find that the large companies can commit resources to those sorts of efforts – which will then trickle down to the smaller business players, and that will eventually become day-to-day practice for all. What we do initially is important, but it’s also important to consider how that touches people below and around us, especially in terms of social and environmental impact.

Another example is our in-house coffee brand, Groundhouse, which has a give-back scheme too. So, we ask the producers explicitly ‘what is it that you need?’ and look to support that. Currently, we’re providing a fully-funded dentistry programme in rural Honduras. All too often, that vital question isn’t asked, and it’s a real shame. Because we have such a vast global supply chain, we are now able to directly, positively impact the producers and farmers of our produce, knowing that we have reflected their wants and needs.”

Can you give any tips to help other companies become more sustainable in their work? 

“It’s a cultural change tweak – and so you need to embed it throughout the entire organisation to get buy-in from everyone involved. Much of it can go to waste, unless customers buy into it. For example, people may not initially like using paper cups, but once they understand the benefits, and they get used to it, consumers won’t even think twice about it. If your company as a whole can embrace certain policies and ethics, it will overtime impact throughout the chain of command and down into your clients, and their clients, and so on. So, my advice is to pick an achievable target, and reach out to everyone within the organisation, and shout about it! Focus on particular areas, engage with teams, and then communicate it loud and proud!” 

Any other comments you wish to make around sustainability in FM / the catering sector? 

“A holistic approach to CSR is fundamental. We’re looking at the whole picture, every aspect, about people’s health both physically and mentally, the impact we have on people both on the supply chain, the consumers and the environment. As an industry, we need to ensure we’re making a positive impact on our society. We have a responsibility to approach and impact the lives of others positively. In a connected world, everything has an impact – so always be mindful of what impact you will be having.”

Tom Kirkup is the head of innovation at management provider Atalian Servest’s catering company, Angel Hill

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