When considering the carbon footprint of mass gathering events, be it sport, music or culture, the sustainability headlines tend to focus more on the environmental impact on millions travelling from across the world. For example, the travel and accommodation of 5 million people for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia represented about 85% of the greenhouse gas emissions that the tournament generated. This translates into 1.6 million tons of CO2e, or the equivalent to the emissions from half a million homes’ annual consumption of electricity.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that with such eye-popping numbers, food and beverage service tends to slip under the radar. This should be far from the case considering that during the same tournament, food and beverage accounted for the second biggest portion of greenhouse gas emissions - generating 105,695 tonnes of CO2e. That is the equivalent of burning 53m kilograms of coal. This covers all food and beverage supply from in-stadia kiosks to official VIP Hospitality, across 12 venues, 64 matches and the 2.5m ticket-holders who attended.
Although these statistics from the Solar Impulse Foundation may seem both staggering and shocking, the purpose of this article is to explore how best to implement sustainable strategies that can greatly reduce this figure.
Our investigations show that a key area that needs to be addressed in this equation is food waste.
It has become apparent over the past few years that a major part of the population is more aware and conscious of the way in which they purchase, consume, and dispose of food. But is being aware and conscious enough in a battle against the ongoing issue that sees over US$1 trillion and 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted globally each year?
The challenge is this: on the one hand customer expectations are constantly growing, on the other the pressure for caterers and event organisers to strip back offerings in an aim to be more economically and environmentally friendly is increasingly tough.
In order to give clarity to this issue we have broken the process down into three key parties (The VIP Hospitality Customer, The Caterer and The Event Organiser) to analyse where the waste comes from and where, we believe, considerable improvements can be made.
The VIP Hospitality Customer
An unpredictable and demanding type – but rightfully expects quality and deserves value from their hospitality experience. Many if not all attendees see the food and beverage options as opportunities to gain maximum value from their overall event ticket cost and who can blame them! This sees the ‘eyes bigger than the stomach’ mentality kick in with larger than normal orders and helpings taken. So some customer groups may consume larger than normal amounts, while others simply make the VIP Hospitality purchase for the convenience of the seats or other related benefits, and leave their food untouched.
Is being aware and conscious enough in a battle against the ongoing issue that sees over US$1 trillion and 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted globally each year?
In an ideal world the customer would share with the caterer the likely dietary requirements of all of their guests ahead of an event. However, there are also options the caterer and hospitality rightsholder might consider that can potentially eat in to the 34% of food waste attributed to customer plates:
- As part of the post-sales phase, educate the customer with informative material on food waste;
- Consider having the chef talk directly to the customers about the matter as part of live food preparation or demonstration;
- Reduce plate sizes.
If we delve a little further into the statistics WRAP share on the matter - 45% of food waste is said to come in the form of food preparation and another 21% comes from spoilage. In first instance these stats would point the finger at the Caterer, being responsible for up to an accumulative 66% of food waste in the hospitality industry. However, if we look a little further into the kitchen and the role of the caterer, we feel this is not a reasonable assumption.
The most difficult job in this equation. Their success relies on happy customers and happy event organisers too: producing great food and service while sticking within a set budget. Expectations are forever high with food and beverage often being the key component in a successful event. Guests can accept the disappointment of a goal-less draw whilst watching their favourite football team, but regardless of the result they expect to be wined and dined in fine fashion when in hospitality.
But it seems that just producing delicious food is not quite enough anymore. New dietary trends and changes in consumer values and beliefs have led to food offerings becoming more and more about the story. Guests want to know exactly where their food has come from, how it has been fed, whether it had a happy life and how it will be disposed of after use. Providence is key! And guests are willing to pay more and more for this.
This is nothing but positive for the industry – it promotes the use of seasonal and local produce, supports local farmers, and greatly lowers food transport emissions. It also puts an important focus on reducing the amount of waste that hits the landfills.
This does however present its challenges and trade-offs for the caterer coming in the form of #FORO (Fear of running out). This cleverly coined phrase by Lime Event Portfolio strikes a key point that seems to be one of the biggest obstacles in really cutting down on food waste. This fear nudges the caterer towards over-ordering, especially when given that a major part of event feedback is food focused. The same study highlighted this significance, showing that one third of all participants reported that food accounts for between 40-80% of post-event feedback. They also emphasised that nearly half of these reviews were focused on food waste too. This shows how aware the consumer is nowadays and requires the attention of caterers otherwise this type of feedback can potentially be damaging to your event or brand.
The below research, conducted by Lime Event Portfolio, shows the food groups listed by percentage wasted:
This table gives much food for thought and gives a clear idea what's wasted most by the consumer and can serve as a useful guide when re-designing a menu to create less waste.
In addition to this, getting creative with the way in which you serve your food may be very effective. For instance, buffet service does not assist a caterer who is trying to predict portion numbers. Buffet food presentation may not feel fresh past a certain time, and guests might not find this aesthetically appealing, so will be more likely to pass, therefore creating more waste.
That said, plate service can also lead to large amounts of waste. Typically, an event might cover themselves by preparing an additional 10% of the full menu. If you want to quantify this for a three-course, 1,000 person banquet you are looking at a staggering 300 dishes being prepared for customers who simply aren't there. When you work in a market that expects the finest quality of food and also requires a multitude of alternative dishes to suit the wider consumer taste, you are inevitably going to contribute to a major footprint of food wastage, environmental damage and your own company’s financial affliction. This is where the event organiser plays a key part in the equation.
The Event Organiser
Responsible for the reputation and success of the event. Most commonly the event organiser will pay for the catering service and will ultimately have the final say. It is therefore extremely important that they lead the implementation of a sustainable framework while maintaining the high-quality product that reflects the value paid for the experience. Clear communication of the eating hours with your clients is a proactive and low-cost solution in preventing food from sitting out for a prolonged period with meat getting dry and vegetables going soggy.
If your event is not a one-off then it is possible to measure customer trends more closely: a check-in tool allows you to know when customers tend to arrive. This information can be passed on to the catering team allowing them to plan their food service timings accurately. In doing this, the amount of in-service food waste can be minimised as much as possible, without having to change the product.
Disposing of food waste in the correct manner may not be the lowest cost option, however there are desirable non-financial benefits that will be attractive to many event organisers. Although difficult to quantify, more and more clients are now drawn to events that actively partake in efforts to improve environmental sustainability. It is much more appealing to attend an experience which has a green footprint and offers the guest a sense of ethical accountability while being able to enjoy their favourite music, sport, or cultural event.
Actions to solve the food waste problem
It is all very well talking about the issue at hand, but what event specific actions can then be taken to reduce food waste:
Reduce overproduction – as discussed, #FORO is the main obstacle faced. However, communication between event organiser and caterer is hugely effective in gauging guest numbers and ordering a measured quantity of food.
Rethink inventory and purchasing practices – work with suppliers who share a common goal of reducing food waste. Request that suppliers deliver portions that suit your offering, rather than trying to adapt their sizes to your menu. Working with local suppliers may reduce the lead time required when ordering ahead, therefore when guest numbers inevitably change the order size can reflect this.
Inform the customer – tell the customer why you are ordering less food! It may seem like a daunting task to do this in a world where “the customer is always right”, but don’t be afraid to stand up for a principle that carries so must justification behind it.
Engage staff - education and guidance are key – if staff are well informed of the issue, they will be more inclined to actively partake in activities to reduce food waste, and be better prepared to explain the catering decisions to the customers.
Measure – separate all food waste from other disposable items – this includes all food made inedible through spoilage, off-cuts and food left over from the plates. By utilising some of the new technologies (Winnow Solutions) out there you will be able to calculate not just the type of food being wasted but the monetary cost going down the drain from each event.
Re-purpose excess food – cutting out 100% food waste is close to impossible unfortunately, but with the increasing number of initiatives and companies that work to re-purpose food waste, there are now plenty of ways to make your trash someone else’s treasure.
See below some great initiatives and charities that are doing great things in the battle against food waste:
- OLIO makes sure that surplus food from events and local businesses ends up in bellies and not bins. This benefits the environment, helps build local communities and improves employee engagement.
- The Felix Project collects fresh, nutritious food that cannot be sold. We deliver this surplus food to charities and schools so they can provide healthy meals and help the most vulnerable in our society.
- FareShare fights hunger, and tackles food waste. FareShare is the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors. They take good quality surplus food from right across the food industry and get it to almost 11,000 frontline charities and community groups.
- DASH Water, set up by two friends Alex and Jack, on a mission to encourage people to start drinking more water and stop throwing away deliciously wonky fruit and vegetable that’s not accepted for commercial food use.