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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Profitability of Waste: the business case for food waste reduction

At the 2018 WorldChefs Congress & Expo hosted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the educational plenary program on day three was dedicated to Feed the Planet. A World Chefs' initiative, Feed the Planet is designed to inspire sustainable food consumption among communities and professionals.

Presentations focused on the current global food waste scenario along with empowering programs committed to evolving the seemingly broken food system. After the "big picture" presentations, the focus narrowed down to local, effective initiatives and case studies on food waste reduction in culinary operations.

Holly presenting on
The Profitability of Waste
Photo courtesy of WorldChefs
The RiA Blog article, Feed the Planet: an empowering WorldChefs' initiative, gives an overview of the session presentations and introduces the WorldChefs Food Waste Challenge.

During the Feed the Planet session, Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder & CEO Holly Elmore presented on The Profitability of Waste: the business case for food waste reduction. After a quick overview of the successful Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) 2009 launch in Atlanta, GA, Holly shared a recipe for food waste reduction success. In addition, Holly outlined the basics of where and why back-of-the-house food waste is generated.

Through four powerful case studies, Holly emphasized key ingredients for success with the bottom line message:
A well-run kitchen generates minimal waste!

Key Ingredients for Success
Within the UN World Food Programme presentation, Frances Simpson-Allen shared the following astonishing facts related to global food waste:
We produce enough food to feed approximately 9 billion people each year.
Of the 4 billion metric tons of food we produce each year, one third is wasted, costing the global economy nearly $750 billion annually.
1 in 9 people goes to bed hungry every night.
Beyond the environmental and humanitarian concerns, food waste is costly to the bottom line. Chefs are incentivized for pure business reasons to minimize food waste, which benefits the organization's bottom line.

Rotten strawberries
photo courtesy of
With a proven track record first with the ZWZ and later the Sustainable Food Court Initiative, Holly shared the following key ingredients for success in food waste reduction programs:
  • Collaboration – zero waste is a team sport!
  • Top management buy-in.
  • Culture – it is “what we do!”
  • Keep it simple.
  • Keen awareness.
  • Track metrics, including cost-savings.
  • Reward | recognize successes.
... and most importantly:
Take baby steps 
Lots and lots of baby steps!!!

Throughout the case studies, the above ingredients were integrated into the successful food waste reduction programs. 

In general food waste breaks down into three main categories:
  • Back-of-the-House (BOH) - food waste generated in the kitchen.
  • Front-of-the-House (FOH) - the customer is a major influence on food waste generated.
  • Excess or Wasted Food Destination - landfill, composting or animal feed are common destinations.
In alignment with the "keep it simple" and "take baby steps" ingredients, the presentation focus was on BOH food waste reduction.

BOH Food Waste Reduction
In general, BOH food waste is generated via spoiled or excess food and/or prep waste. Kitchen operations produce byproduct waste that is difficult or impossible to eliminate. An example is protein bones from cooking meats, poultry, and fish for center-of-the-plate menu items. After flavors are extracted in stocks, the bones are completely spent and destined for compost or landfill.

Chef & purveyor working together
photo courtesy of Restaurant Owner
Below are the four main BOH operating sectors, along with a key phrase for waste reduction:
  1. PurchasingClose relationships with purveyors help prevent food waste.
  2. Food Prep - Strong training & mentorship programs prevent food waste.
  3. Food Storage & Equipment - Strong training & equipment maintenance programs prevent food waste.
  4. Menu Planning - Conscious menu planning helps prevent food waste.
Specific examples of potential food waste within each of the above operating sectors are included in Holly's PPT presentation, which is available for download on the Ei Speaking Engagement page.

The following are proven steps for getting started with a BOH food waste reduction program:
  • Create a baseline of the quantity of food waste generated.
  • Determine why | how food waste was generated – is the waste preventable?
  • Identify “easy-win” first steps. 
  • Develop a staged-in game plan filled with lots & lots of baby steps.
  • Set-up a metrics tracking system to quantify waste reduction and cost-savings.
  • Importantly, remember to Keep It Simple!
Case Study: Ted's Montana Grill
Stopping food waste starts with prevention.

George McKerrow & Ted Turner
photo courtesy of Ted's
Ted's Montana Grill (Ted's) Co-Founders Ted Turner and George McKerrow lead the national restaurant group's culture with a profound commitment to sustainability. As industry pioneers, Ted's launched the Green Restaurant Revolution in 2008 and joined the ZWZ as a Founding Participant in 2009.

With 45 restaurants across 16 states, Ted's food waste reduction success makes a significant dollar impact to the bottom line. At Ted's, the philosophy is to prevent food waste by purchasing top quality ingredients and cooking in small batches. The added value is amazing food, freshly prepared for happy customers!

The following are a few of Ted's small-batch cooking protocols:
  • Beef & bison are ground in-house twice per day.
  • Burgers are weighed & hand-crafted to order.
  • Fresh guacamole is made throughout the day (3 avocados per batch).
  • Cookies are baked in batches of nine cookies at a time. 
  • Roasted chickens are cooked every 30 minutes.
  • French fries are cut and fried to order.
When only three avocados are used per recipe, nine cookies are baked at a time, and French fries are cut and fried to order, potential food waste is minimized.

SUCCESS: Nationally, the average restaurant food waste is 3 - 4%; Ted's food waste is 1.89%. The absolute dollar impact of more than 1% less food waste over 45 restaurants is significant!

Case Study: Affairs to Remember Caterers
Sustainability is integral to the business model.

Known as Atlanta's greenest caterer, Affairs to Remember Caterers (Affairs) is 40 years strong with deep community and customer relationships. Affairs is one of the nation's largest privately held luxury caterers and shares their successes at many local, regional and national events.

Chef Ahmad recovering heavy cream
photo courtesy of Affairs
When they joined the ZWZ as a Founding Participant in 2009, Affairs immediately integrated sustainability into their core business model. Affairs issued an August 2009 "The Thrill is Gone" press that included the phrase "... a delicious divorce from the landfill."

At Affairs, a simple practice recovers approximately 4% of the heavy cream used annually, saving an estimated $1,000. In Affairs Executive Chef Ahmad Nourzad own words:
After emptying a carton(s) of cream, I let the carton(s) sit for about 1-2 minutes on a warm surface and then pour the remaining contents out. This yields about a pint of cream, per case. Here at Affairs, we purchase an average of 500 cases of cream per year. This practice yields a savings of approximately 20 cases per year.  
By repurposing unserved, leftover food from events, Chef Ahmad reduces waste and enhances their food. Per Ahmad, "Being a luxury catering company, we have lots of vegetables ordered for large events that are returned to us unused. We then turn these leftover vegetables into pickles, jams, and jellies and utilize those on our buffets to enhance our food."

Affairs GM Rich Wilner accepting
the City's formal resolution
Beyond the cost-saving benefit of their waste reduction and recycling, Affairs receives community recognition and increased revenue.

The City of Atlanta proclaimed November 11, 2014 "Affairs to Remember Caterers Day" in recognition of sustainability efforts, and in particular the milestone of having diverted one million pounds of recoverable materials from Georgia landfills. 

In 5 years, Affairs diverted over 1 million pounds of material from landfills!

The RiA Blog article, ... and the journey began with a delicious divorce from the landfill, showcases the City of Atlanta Affairs to Remember Caterers Day resolution, details Affairs waste reduction and beyond sustainability successes, and substantiates the Ei | Affairs long-term, close relationship.

In an industry notorious for costly high turnover, Affairs has minimal turnover, especially with the hourly staff. At Affairs, employees are served a nutritious, hearty meal daily at their kitchen. For some employees, the lunch is the main meal of the day. Affairs invests in their employees with above-industry pay, especially for hourly staff. Reward: an impressive portion of the Affairs staff boasts 30+ years of employment at the caterer.

SUCCESS: To date over $500,000 of booked business is the direct result of Affairs' impressive sustainability success.

Case Study: GWCCA | Levy Restaurants
A hospitality industry pioneer

Georgia World Congress Center
photo courtesy of GWCCA
The Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) opened in 1976 and over the years expanded into the fourth largest conference center in the nation. In 2009 the GWCCA hosted the ZWZ launch press conference, leading to a CNN prime-time story and a front-page New York Times article.

Following the ZWZ press conference, the GWCCA hosted the Meeting Planners International lunch for 1500 guests where Ei coordinated the luncheon presentations. Monumental: ALL food related to the lunch was consumed, donated or composted.

In 2013, the GWCCA hosted the Men's Final Four Championships at the Georgia Dome, an arena within GWCCA campus. One of the Atlanta Local Organizing Committee (ALOC) stated goals was to make the 2013 Final Four the "greenest games ever." GWCCA Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer took the helm for achieving the lofty goal. Success: the comprehensive ALOC plan culminated in substantial green footprints before, during and after the games.

Upon request, post-event Tim and an EPA colleague drafted the Final Four RFP sustainability section. Thus, new industry standards were established!

Tim serves as the Chair for the 2019 Super Bowl Sustainability Committee. The 2019 Super Bowl is hosted at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, located within the GWCCA campus and operated by the Atlanta Falcons.

GWCCA Executive Team with
LEED emblem
On October 28, 2014, the GWCCA announced the 3.9 million square feet conference center was awarded LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The announcement thrust Atlanta into the national | global sustainability spotlight as home to the world's largest LEED-certified convention center AND the 14th largest LEED-certified building.

Recertifying two years early, on November 28, 2017, the GWCC was awarded LEED Gold certification, the second highest level in the rating system. In the recertification, the GWCC was thirteen points higher than the 2014 application and five points higher than the minimum requirement.

The IMPACT Blog article, Atlanta: the greenest convention, sports, and entertainment destination in the world, announces the GWCCA Gold LEED certification and details the impressive sustainability successes at the GWCCA.

Levy Restaurants (Levy), owned by Compass Group North America, is the GWCCA-contracted foodservice operator and a strong partner in food waste reduction. Specializing in premium-quality culinary services to major entertainment and sports venues, Levy operates in over 100 foodservice outlets; Levy's 2017 revenue exceeded $1.5 billion. With a powerful Atlanta presence, Levy provides foodservice for Olympic Centennial Park, Philips Arena, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Atlanta Motor Speedway in addition to the GWCCA. Per the Levy website:

Good doesn’t quite cut it at Levy

The Compass Group Trim Trax program plays a key role in GWCCA food waste reduction. Within the program, chefs take ownership of their food cost and develop a keen awareness for potential food waste in their kitchens. Trim Trax is a measuring tool and tracts food waste at the unit level in the following categories:
Measuring food waste
with Trim Trax system
photo courtesy of Levy
  • BOH - Production Waste  
  • Premium - Over Production 
  • FOH – Production Waste 
  • Restaurant & Cafe Production
Additional details on the Trim Trax program are included in Holly's PPT presentation, which is available for download on the Ei Speaking Engagement page.

Beyond Trim Trax, GWCCA Levy Executive Chef Matt Roach understands consistent staff training is key to food waste reduction. Chef Matt adheres to the following protocol to ensure minimal BOH food waste is generated at the GWCCA:
  • Clear bins help chefs to monitor waste throughout shifts.
  • New employees receive knife skills training.
  • Annually, the entire staff receives a knife skills review.
  • At the annual review, a 50# bag of onions is prepped to ensure team members are within the approved percentage of acceptable waste.
  • For repeat shows, actual food usage reports are run to develop more accurate production schedules & prevent overproduction.
SUCCESS: When Trim Trax was implemented at the GWCCA, prep food waste reduced 10% and remained consistent over the years.

Imagine the tremendous food waste and food cost reduction by implementing the Trim Trax system across Levy's 100-plus foodservice outlets. When the entire Compass Group North American empire is considered, the food waste-reduction tonnage and food cost-savings collective monetary impact is staggering!

Case Study: Arwyn Watkins
Measuring food waste minimizes food waste.

Arwyn Watkins
photo courtesy of Arwyn
In alignment with the food waste reduction success by Levy Restaurants, Arwyn Watkins, President Culinary Association of Wales, knows first hand the importance of measuring food waste generated in foodservice operations. In Arwyn's words, "I hope that in many kitchens around the world today measuring food waste is a habit and if it is not it needs to be."

Around 30 years ago, Arwyn was hired as the Executive Chef for a ferry company with ten ships and the capacity to serve 2,200 customers every 75 minutes. The food and kitchen labor costs were above acceptable standards. In his assessment of operations in-place, Arwyn discovered food waste was disposed of directly into the ocean via a mechanical system that prevented food waste measurement.

Immediately, Arwyn devised a simple, effective solution:
  • the mechanical food waste disposal systems were dismantled on the ships.
  • food-waste containers were installed on the car deck some 6 flights of stairs from the kitchen galley.
According to Arwyn, the action was taken to break old habits and get chefs to consider their actions before setting off on the challenge of 6 flights of stairs to dispose of food waste.

SUCCESS: Overnight the ferry operations experienced a reduction in food waste generated, lower labor costs incurred, less food purchased, and a significant uplift in the ships' foodservice profits. Simple solutions are often the BEST solutions!

Throughout the four case studies, the key ingredients for success in food waste reduction programs detailed above were interwoven within the respective culinary operations. 

Holly ended her empowering yet practical presentation with following phrases across two closing slides:

Bottom Line:

Well-run kitchens generate minimal food waste.

Food waste reduction makes good business sense: it improves the bottom line!


Beyond the “right thing to do,”

Food waste reduction is the “profitable thing to do,”

… and the “EASY thing to do!” 

Chef Chris Koetke during
the Feed the Planet session
Feed the Planet Committee Chair Chef Chris Koetke returned to the stage and announced the WorldChefs Food Waste Challenge, the culmination of the impressive Feed the Planet session. The Challenge tagline is:

Love Food. Hate Waste. ... Save Money.

A comprehensive Feed the Planet PPT presentation, as well as the solo The Profitability of Waste: the business case for food waste reduction presentation, are available for download on the Ei Speaking Engagement page.

The Holly Elmore Images FB album, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia July 2018 Visit, includes a section on the 2018 WorldChefs Congress & Expo along with sections on Holly's guided and self-guided KL tours.

Thank you to Ingrid Yllmark and the Electrolux sustainability team for sponsoring The Profitability of Waste presentation and making it possible for Holly to travel to Kuala Lumpur for the WorldChefs Congress.

When the key ingredients are followed, food waste reduction is infiltrated within standard kitchen operating practices. Industry pioneers with minimized food waste showcase how reducing waste is the "right thing to do," "the profitable thing to do" and the "EASY thing to do!" As stated in Holly's farewell slide:
Let's Get Started!

About The World Association of Chefs’ Societies:

Founded in 1928 in Paris, The World Association of Chefs’ Societies (WorldChefs) is a dynamic global network of over 100 chefs associations representing the spectrum of chefs across the myriad of levels and specialties. The venerable August Escoffier served as first Honorary President.

In alignment with its mission, WorldChefs creates impact within four key areas: education, networking, competition, and humanitarian & sustainability. Within the humanitarian & sustainability focus area, Feed the Planet and World Chefs Without Borders programs relieve food poverty, deliver crisis support, and promote sustainability across the globe.

Feed the Planet is a WorldChefs initiative designed to inspire sustainable food consumption among communities and professionals. In addition, Feed the Planet supports people in need through emergency relief, food poverty alleviation, and education. Founded in 2012, Feed the Planet is powered in partnership with Electrolux and AIESEC, an international, apolitical, independent and not-for-profit organization, run by students and recent graduates eager to build positive social change.

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