As consumers realise the social and environmental impacts of their food and drink choices, ethical eating is on the rise. It's an area where foodservice company Compass is taking responsibility, as Elly Earls discovers
The fact is that sales of ethically sourced food and drink have grown by 50% in the past five years, according to insights from Compass Group UK & Ireland. Consumers are now more interested and invested in where their money is going, rather than simply what it is buying. As a result, demand is growing even as belts continue to tighten - as long, that is, as consumers believe in the ethical story behind the product.
A parallel trend noted by operators is a rise in demand for plant-based dishes, as consumers realise the health and environmental benefits of cutting down their meat intake, not to mention the impact on animal welfare. Recently published Mintel research has found that 28% of Brits have reduced how much meat they eat over the past six months.
Whether the trend towards ethical eating is driven by health, environmental or social concerns, it's one operators can't afford to ignore. And as the UK's biggest caterer, serving 15,000 client locations across the UK and Ireland, Compass has more responsibility than most.
"Our customers expect that, as the world's leading foodservice business, we will have done the hard work to check and source responsibly, allowing them to simply enjoy the services we provide," says the caterer's head of corporate responsibility for the UK & Ireland, Duncan Gray.
For this reason, earlier this year Compass launched its 2016 corporate responsibility report, which outlines four pillars of focus - sourcing, people, environment and health. The clear set of goals puts much greater achievements within the company's grasp, says Gray.
A force for good
Responsible sourcing is at the core of Compass's activity and is fundamental to the success of the business, according to Gray. "We want to use our buying power to be a force for good in the world, and we take care to make sure our suppliers are doing the same: we expect them to act responsibly and humanely towards their workers, livestock and local communities," he says.
In its corporate responsibility report, the company identifies 15 categories where it knows that its buying practices can make a positive difference. The categories include proteins (such as milk, fish and beef), crops (such as palm oil, sugar and coffee) and non-food items (such as paper and uniforms).
Within these categories, Compass has a long list of commitments. They include using 100% cage-free eggs by 2025, ensuring 100% of its tea, coffee and hot chocolate is ethically sourced by 2020, publishing a human rights action plan in 2017, and continuing to address the risk of modern slavery in the supply chain by auditing 100% of high-risk sites by the end of 2018. The company is also committed to buying only ethically sourced bananas and British or Fairtrade sugar, buying more certified fish each year, supporting British and Irish dairy farmers, using Sedex (a nonprofit collaborative information platform) to ensure its uniform suppliers continue to drive improvements in responsible and ethical labour practices, and moving paper and plastic disposables up the waste hierarchy every year.
Already, great progress has been made, particularly in fish and dairy. For example, in its readymade sandwiches, Compass uses only tuna caught using pole and line and is proud that the team is procuring more fish every year from certified sustainable sources.
"We have agreed a three-year partnership with the Marine Conservation
Society [MCS] to further improve our sourcing policies and to ensure that our monitoring systems are robust," adds Gray. "In 2016, they helped us to host a workshop with our biggest fish suppliers to explore how we could work together to create a robust supply chain for sustainable fish."
This year has also seen Compass take the step to move all of its own-supplied milk to Red Tractor, ensuring that all dairies the company buys from are regularly checked to meet the accreditation scheme's strict standards.
Spotlight on EatFair As part of its commitment to ethical sourcing, Compass and Fairtrade have partnered on the EatFair range of cakes and biscuits.
Launched in 2013, the range has recently been revamped to meet customer demand for healthy and indulgent treat options and to support the establishment of a women's leadership school for marginalised female farmers in Ivory Coast.
The all-new-recipe EatFair snack bars are now in hundreds of Compass UK sites and come in seven different flavours, including Rocky Road, Salted Caramel Billionaires and an Oat, Date and Seed bar. Five pence from the sale of each bar goes towards Fairtrade's African women's leadership initiative, for which Compass has committed to raise £50,000.
When buying products on Fairtrade terms, operators know that all farmers are getting a minimum price for their commodity as well as receiving a Fairtrade premium, which they can spend democratically within their co-operatives.
Farmers also have to adhere to a wide range of Fairtrade standards, covering social, environmental and economic criteria.
According to Barney Smyth, partnership manager at the Fairtrade Foundation, the money from the Fairtrade premium isn't on its own enough to effectively address the problems faced by African cocoa-growing communities, which include gender inequality.
Currently women in Ivory Coast make up 68% of the labour force, yet only 25% own land, and few have roles in business, access to revenue generated from cocoa, or even bank accounts.
"There needs to be additional investment and this is a great example," Smyth says. "It's an innovative social intervention and it's something that's incredibly important to sustainable development."
At the women's leadership school, women study modules on topics including leadership, economy and business expertise. The aim is to give them a formal role within their community and confidence to manage their money.
Earlier this year the school launched with 24 participants, all of whom are well- placed to transmit what they have learned to other women within their co-operatives. During its second year, the school will scale up in participant numbers and enhance training materials based on the lessons from year one. By the end of the last year of the programme, Fairtrade hopes to have integrated the school into its cocoa programme across West Africa.
"It will enhance economic empowerment and leadership in Ivorian cocoa- growing groups, leading to strengthened knowledge, attitudes and practices towards the role of women leaders," says Smyth.
"There's also good synergy between Compass's work with Women in Food in the UK. It was a good opportunity to align their sustainability goals with ours."
Spotlight on veg-centric menus
One of the biggest ethical eating trends is the growth in veg-centric menus. Over the past decade the number of vegans in the UK has risen by a total of 360%. Moreover, nearly half of Brits now identify as flexitarian, only 18% believe meat is required for a good meal, and 44% are willing or already committed to cut down on or entirely eliminate animal-based products from their diets, a result of the growing awareness of the environmental and health impacts of eating meat.
It's not only high-street chains that have stepped up to the plate and started offering more - and more creative - vegan, vegetarian and lower meat content options to meet booming demand. Working with global animal protection organisation Humane Society International (HSI) and chef Jenny Chandler, Compass has invited a selection of chefs to take part in a series of cooking workshops on veg-centric cooking.
The recipes created as part of HSI's Forward Food programme - which include celeriac steaks with buckwheat and nut pesto, chilli con quinoa, and sweet potato
and black bean burgers - will be added to Compass's recipe database for chefs in the business to use.
According to culinary director Nick Vadis, the team has relished the challenge of getting creative with plantbased products. He says: "For many of us who eat meat dishes, vegetables are seen as an accompaniment for the meat, the side to supplement the flavours of the main attraction.
Veg-centric cooking dispels this notion, putting the focus on the exciting, fresh and nutritious elements each fruit and vegetable ingredient contains, and how to maximise those flavours, building on the natural umami in some of the ingredients.
"The workshops have been about our team experimenting with ingredients to bring out the natural flavours in plant-based dishes - and we've made some incredible and delicious meals."
Compass's participation in the Forward Food campaign, which was launched to encourage a worldwide shift from menus centred on animal products to menus with plant-based food as their focus, is incredibly significant for HSI.
Claire Bass, HSI UK's executive director, explains: "By procuring fewer animal products and providing more plant-based options, the foodservice industry, which serves millions of customers and meals each day, can play a critical role in transforming the global food system to create a more sustainable, healthy and humane world. By adding delicious plant-based dishes to just some of its menus, Compass will have a huge impact on the availability of vegan food across the UK."
While Compass may seem to have ethical sourcing sussed, Gray is the first to admit that it is not a process without pitfalls. "Sourcing through complex global supply chains is always a challenge," he says. "Price volatility and inflation makes it more difficult to enhance the sustainability credentials of the products we source. When inflation makes goods more expensive and price volatility makes forecasting harder, it adds pressure to the cost of products."
Caterers' jobs are made still harder by the low volume of products they procure compared with the likes of the big supermarkets. Two factors make Compass well-placed to overcome these challenges, according to Gray: its world-leading food and beverage procurement company Foodbuy, and its commitment to clearly defined goals.
He adds: "We are constantly building understanding of our supply chains and providing greater traceability and transparency. The more knowledge we have alongside our clients and consumers, the more we are empowered to act and take positive steps.
"By launching our corporate responsibility report, we have put a marker in the sand for our key commitments, where we think we can make big and quantifiable differences. We can maintain an ethical supply chain by being clear in our commitments; not overcommitting or being driven by fads which distract us from our core impacts on the world; and identifying priorities."
Turn up the taste
Chef Jenny Chandler's top tips for creating delicious meat-, egg- and dairy-free dishes
•Use plenty of pulses (lentils, peas and beans). They are hearty, filling and packed full of protein.
•Develop deep umami flavour by roasting and chargrilling vegetables, using dried mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes and adding a dash of yeast extract, balsamic vinegar or soy sauce to dressings, sauces and glazes.
•Create non-dairy creaminess in savoury and sweet dishes by adding coconut yogurt or liquidised silken tofu. Alternatively, soak cashew nuts for a couple of hours, then blend them with water.
The Caterer and Compass
The Caterer has teamed up with Compass Group UK & Ireland to produce exclusive content that offers an in-depth look at the foodservice market today. In a series of regular articles throughout the year we aim, with the help of Compass and its insight team, to examine the key issues that the sector is facing, as well as some of the key trends.