How do we achieve sustainable catering?

Traci Lewis - 25 June 2014

Food is Fun cookery session

Jacques Marchal, Plymouth chef with Leigham Primary School children in the Food is Fun cookery competition

At our recent Big Food Debate in Plymouth we explored the issue of sustainable catering to find out what it really means and how we can achieve it. To help inform this debate we had a team of catering experts taking the floor:

After Tim and Brad’s presentations a debate ensued with a group of people from a diverse range of businesses and organisations from across the South West (SW); local authorities, public health, food producers and suppliers, restaurants, Plymouth University and Duchy College.

The main challenges they identified across the board were:

  • The real cost of producing sustainable food compared to price people prepared to pay;
  • Difficulties for small scale food producers to find viable markets for their products;
  • Customer awareness and understanding of sustainable food and farming.

Jeremy Lovelock of Scorse Foods advised that it was important to not just focus on price but to communicate the wider value of your business; he cited his low carbon delivery vehicles and excellent customer service. Developing partnerships and networks with your suppliers is also an important way to ensure a reliable and affordable supply. Whilst education and engagement with your customers on every level is also key to ensure they understand the value of your product. Restaurant menus are one obvious way to do this however Tim, Brad and Jeremy all visit schools and do cookery demos to help educate the next generation.

Hannah Caswell, SW adviser for the Soil Association Catering Mark explained how their accreditation provides caterers with a guarantee of sustainable sourcing, “We provide an independent endorsement that food providers are taking steps to improve the food they serve, using fresh ingredients which are free from trans fats, harmful additives and GM, and better for animal welfare. Caterers are audited to ensure they meet high standards of provenance and traceability, providing reassurance to customers that meals are freshly prepared using environmentally-sustainable and seasonal ingredients.”

However, sustainable catering is a complex issue and not just about the produce which is served, but the whole approach. The Sustainable Restaurant Association describes sustainability as, ”about restaurants managing the social and environmental impact of their operations. Committing to sustainability means that restaurants can make a huge difference on issues such as climate change, animal welfare and food waste. And by restaurants communicating what they’re doing, diners are better informed, meaning they can choose to eat at places that share the same values.”

We came out of our debate with a list of actions to work into the next Food Plymouth Action Plan. These include: Linking food businesses with schools and colleges; Research and awareness raising about the real cost of food; Increasing commitment of caterers to sustainable catering.

But businesses do respond best to what their customers actually want. So next time you eat out perhaps you could ask the restaurant what their sourcing policy is?

Our Big Food Debate was a also a day of celebration for sustainable catering with Plymouth awarded the first ever UK Blue City Award by Fish2Fork, in recognition of the high level of sustainable fish sourcing in over 80 of its restaurants, a great achievement! Some of these local eateries were also recognised in the Plymouth Food Awards with the Sustainable Restaurant Award going to both River Cottage and Jolly Jacks. The Reconnect Award which recognises sustainable sourcing and good customer communication went to Kingfisher Fish & Chips and Dolphin House Brazzerie. All of this is helping to both raise awareness and connect people who want to produce, buy and eat food which is good for both people and planet.

For full report of the Big Food Debate, and copy of the Plymouth Good Food Map, visit If you would like to get involved with this work contact us at

Traci Lewis is a Project Manager for the Soil Association and Coordinator of the Food Plymouth partnership. @TraciLewis79

Food Plymouth is part of ‘DEAL’ is an Interreg partner programme led by the Conseil General des Cotes D’Armor to support ‘economic development through local food’. It is supported locally in Plymouth by; Plymouth City Council, Plymouth University and Plymouth City Centre Company, for development of Food Plymouth partnership and delivery of the Sustainable Food City Plymouth Action Plan

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Anna Louise Batchelor
25 June 2014 12:12

It is always great to read about the successes of the Catering Mark. However you clearly illustrate the challenges ahead, plenty of work for us all still to do!

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