Diets need to change and food waste must reduce dramatically if the food service industry is to meet 2030 agricultural emission targets, a leading caterer has said.

Noel Mahony, chief executive of UK caterer BaxterStorey, was speaking at the RDS Dublin to Irish industry leaders in an Afternoon Tea gathering hosted by The Firm, the specialist hospitality sector recruitment consultants.

Welcoming guests, Micheline Corr, director of The Firm, said that research undertaken by her company indicated that climate change ranked second only to talent attraction and retention among the issues that most concerned Irish caterers. She added that caterers also saw a significant opportunity in a commitment to sustainability.

Noel Mahony said the Paris Accord and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are already driving a sea change in the retail and hospitality sector.

“Failing to understand and to mitigate the impacts of their ingredients by reimagining menus and working with their supply chains will leave business open to climate risk and increasing regulation” he said.

“A report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) concluded that to deliver the necessary cuts in agricultural emissions before 2030, diets need to shift and food waste must be dramatically reduced. This means that businesses who are not yet looking at the impacts of their ingredients and reviewing their overall proposition are falling behind from a brand and consumer perception perspective. They are also more vulnerable and exposed than those who are changing their business model to adapt to support more sustainable food systems. They need to look at where and how they source their key ingredients to build resilience in their supply chain.”

“For some time, there has been a disconnect between industry action on sustainability and consumer awareness of these efforts, even for those businesses that have been built upon these values. We have to communicate better with our customer – they do care, and the dialogue must increase between provider and consumer,” he said.

Hidden costs include diet-related disease, greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation.

“Tackling food waste is an urgent priority,” he said, “In the UK our foodservice sector contributes 9% of post farm food waste, that’s four times as much as the retail sector. We need dialogue and collaboration between us, clients and the end customers to ensure that we are working together and communicating the facts.”

Noel Mahony said that in workplace catering there is a renewed focus on well-being and employee welfare. It is recognised that the daily work environment has become relentless, intense, and increasingly stress filled. One of the most accessible routes to relieving stress within the workplace may be with food and restaurants. Food, arguably, is playing a more central and important role in both work culture and daily life than ever before. Restaurants are becoming social hubs which become central to the daily working pattern. Nutrition and health is now a central force within many employer strategies across all markets, and it must be towards the top of our agenda.

The catering sector, he said, has become highly competitive. “Our industry is being challenged by new players and forces all the time. Some clients are seeking to reclaim kitchen space whilst maintaining a leading offer. Delivered-in models are becoming an increasingly competitive force all the time. The rise of the ‘agile-worker’ means that we can no longer count on site populations as a direct measure to cash sales. Clients are seeking greater innovation - especially within technology, and we are way behind other industries in this regard.”

On the critical issue of pay, training and compensation, he said that these ‘have not been good enough’ in the foodservice sector. “We have struggled with our image with an increasing reliance on free movement of people to support our people needs. Macho style hours, split shifts, and low pay have contributed to our challenges. Depression and mental health issues are widespread in our sector, and until recently we have been slow to react.”

“We can move the dial, but it takes a long term commitment to do so. Academies that specialise in developing our amazing talented chefs, baristas, front of house teams and management are long term investments and simply cannot suffer from the annual budget cut. There is a huge cost in building these development pathways for our teams, but I believe they are fundamental to building a sustainable business with a strong working culture.”