Talking Point: WRAP’s Charlotte Henderson urges hoteliers to monitor food waste

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For our final Talking Point article for this month, we talk to WRAP’s Charlotte Henderson, who urges hoteliers to monitor their food waste or risk throwing too much of their profits in the bin.

Would you pay your energy bill with an open cheque book without trying to manage how much you are using? No, of course you wouldn’t. But many hotels seem to be taking that approach to food waste by not adequately monitoring how much is thrown away, and failing to identify how to reduce this hidden cost to their business.

WRAP statistics show that food waste costs hotels in the UK a staggering £318 million every year, that’s an average of £4,000 per tonne of food waste produced – one tonne is the equivalent of filling four 240 litre wheelie bins alone. But we are finding a lack of data on food waste in individual hotels. Whilst some might record the volume they produce, many don’t understand where most of it comes from. It is like throwing money straight into the bin.

We know that just over a third of all food waste in hotel kitchens is unavoidable - like vegetable peelings, egg shells and tea bags - but that means the remaining two thirds could have been eaten. Potatoes, fruit, vegetables and bakery items are the perfectly edible food items that most often end up in the bin, and it’s costing hotels an average of 52p per meal.

Without collecting and analysing this data on food waste, it is impossible to understand where action can be taken to reduce costs. Yes, it might seem like a hard task for hoteliers to approach, but actually it can be simple to identify the basics, gain staff involvement and start to see a huge difference to their profit margins.

In the average hotel, almost half of all food waste comes from food preparation, 34% comes from customers’ plates and 21% from spoilage, such as out of date produce. One of the first steps is to monitor and weigh all food wastage for a short period, ideally broken down by spoilage, preparation and plate waste. Then focus on the areas where the biggest waste volumes arise and where high cost ingredients are being wasted.

Monitoring uptake and wastage rates of different menus can help hoteliers plan more efficiently. Ordering the right amount of stock, storing it properly and ensuring it gets used before the end of its shelf life can also make a big difference. It could be that looking at how fruit and vegetables are being prepared can reduce unnecessary waste. For example, by carefully removing only the very central core of a pepper, at least 10% extra could be used.

A WRAP survey* showed that 41% of consumers blamed oversized portions for leaving food on their plates, so reducing portion sizes, offering a choice of sizes or introducing options for side dishes can also significantly reduce plate wastage.

Reviewing how much food is being prepared for breakfast buffets is another area to consider. By actively considering customer numbers, requirements for preparation could be more carefully controlled and wastage of ingredients reduced.

So it might seem like a big challenge to tackle food waste, but making a few simple changes can help you reap significant benefits. As members of the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement, the City Hotel Derry and RiverRidge Recycling, are both acutely aware of the costs to business of managing food waste, and the need for collaborative partnerships to ensure good food waste management. Their close business relationship has delivered tangible benefits for the hotel in  recycling food waste and cost savings.

There are a number of online tools and resources available to help: a range of information and case studies is available at www.wrap.org.uk/info-finder, and WRAP can also help with establishing KPIs and providing tracking sheets. A toolkit created by Unilever to help measure and reduce food waste has also been adapted for use on our website at wrap.org.uk/resource-centre.

There is a real opportunity for change here. Simply by monitoring and analysing data on food waste, action can be taken where it’s needed, and financial savings could be made from today.

WRAP manages the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement (HaFSA) which brings together signatories and supporters from across the sector to cut food and packaging waste. Guidance on reducing food waste in hotels is available at www.wrap.org.uk/hoteliers and an information sheet is available here www.wrap.org.uk/takingactionhotels.

*visit www.wrap.org.uk/lfhw for more details on this survey.

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