Local sourcing – the pros and cons

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Locally sourcing ingredients for pubs

Related tags Sustainability Social responsibility Food Pubco + head office

Building relationships with nearby suppliers can prove fruitful with pricing and availability but is local always best?
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Celebrating provenance alongside supporting farmers and fishers are two areas of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA)’s Food Made Good standard – a mark that aims to award restaurants as well as other food and beverage businesses such as pubs that meet a set of criteria focusing on sourcing, society and environment.

As part of the Green Initiative, supported by Molson Coors Beverage Company and Brewfitt, The Morning Advertiser ​discussed the accreditation alongside the benefits and challenges of local sourcing with the SRA’s managing director Juliane Caillouette Noble.

Hi Juliane, great to speak with you. First of all, what is the Food Made Good standard?

We at the SRA run an accreditation, called the Food Made Good standard​. We've been doing this with restaurants for the past 10 years, we've just had a big revamp of it, to make it more accessible globally, so more restaurants outside of the UK can use it as a tool.

The accreditation is a 360-degree view on sustainability. It's not just looking at one aspect, we're instead looking under three pillars.

We're looking at the impact of your sourcing, drilling into four key areas of your sourcing. Then we're looking at the social impacts – how you treat your employees, how you engage in your community.

Something that's really important with pubs and pubs often do really well, which is finding ways to engage with their local communities or to give back with their local community.

The third thing in that social impact side is responsible diet. The ways you are encouraging responsible diets. Seven out of 10 meals are being eaten outside of the home these days so we really want to make sure restaurants and pubs are being responsible in the designing of menus.

The third aspect is looking at the environmental impact. That's your traditional, reducing your footprint, energy use, water, food waste and then we have a whole section on reduce, reuse, recycle, which is talking about all those packaging points, but then also talking about other ways to incorporate circularity into your restaurant, [such as] refurbs, building standards, the ways you're designing your spaces.

The Food Made Good standard gives you an assessment of your performance and helps you see the things you're doing well, helps you see where you could be doing better, gives you a score and an accreditation that you can then shout about and use.

At the same time, it generates an action plan for you, helping you see what the next steps are.

If you're not yet, measuring your food waste, then it can encourage you and give you a process to start, so you can set a reduction target and act on that target. It's really trying to help you drive forward on your journey to being a better business.

It's really operational. We talk a lot about being for restaurants, by restaurants, or for pubs, by pubs, for foodservice by food service, where a lot of the ESG accreditations or marks that you would apply for as a business are really focused kind of head office level.

In a hospitality business, how do you translate that into the actual actions that people need to take on the floor?

We're really focused on asking questions about those actual actions you're taking on the floor, that all together layer up to being those higher level ambitions.

It's all well and good to say that you have a net zero strategy but if you don't have procedures on how you turn off all of your equipment, then you're not going to meet those reduction targets you set.

"You can get better, lower carbon ingredients from further afield."

How do you see the hospitality sector doing in terms of sustainability?

Molson Coors corporate affairs director for Western Europe Kate Macnamara said: “Local sourcing is about working with suppliers that make their produce in this country. But what about where your suppliers’ suppliers are based? It’s a good idea to chat to suppliers about the sustainable decisions they’re also making when it comes to sourcing and production.

“Brewed in Burton-upon-Trent, Carling is the UK's No. 1 lager[1]​ and has been for more than 30 years. As well as being made using 100% renewable electricity, it’s brewed with 100% British barley, much of which is supplied by the Molson Coors Growers Group – and it’s brewed with local Burton water.”

[1]​ Circana and CGA GB Value sales 52 w/e 28-Jan-23

The hospitality sector is one of the few places in our lives where all of the core issues around sustainability, intersect and come to life for people.

All of the issues happening in a restaurant – energy efficiency, carbon footprint, food waste, diet related disease, all of these things are happening and are these big sustainability issues in restaurants.

Restaurants are one of those really important, illustrative places to connect with sustainability issues.

However, hospitality as an industry, is incredibly busy and incredibly operational. Thinking about sustainability from an industry perspective, [it] needs to look really operational, [with] specific targeted actions for businesses to take.

When we get too heady talking about the theories of sustainability, or what needs to happen, we cripple the industry from acting, because actually their businesses that day to day run of of small operations.

From our perspective as the SRA, sustainability is something that's incredibly holistic. We need to be talking about the supply chain and the food because primarily, we're food businesses.

[When it comes to] the food you serve, you need to be talking about the environmental impact of your operations and you need to be looking at the social impact of a business.

Image: Getty/Thomas Barwick

Too often does sustainability and hospitality get really boiled down to just being talking about energy use, potentially food waste and maybe packaging.

We like act like those are the three things that it means to be sustainable, when actually, the choices we make around our procurement and the food we serve, is the number one environmental impact restaurants have.

Secondly, if we don't start to address the social issues in the way we employ people in hospitality, the way we treat people and hospitality, we're going to continue to suffer from the staffing crisis we've all been experiencing since Covid and before.

How can local sourcing impact a pub’s offer?

Local sourcing is one of those things that is an interesting sustainability issue because if you rewind our minds back 10 years, people were talking about local sourcing in the context of cutting down food miles, and that local sourcing has this big carbon impact.

What we now know from the science is that transportation has become much more efficient over time and actually, it's the on-farm generation of carbon that's more impactful.

It is possible that to get better lower carbon ingredients from further afield if you have better farming methods further afield than local.

This always then comes up in in like a tension debate where people will say to me, a local sourcing isn't always better. And the thing I always come back to is that there are more benefits than just than just the CO2 footprint.

The benefits beyond that are about building resilient food systems. We all experienced during Covid, supply chain issues and supply chains breaking went wrong.

That's the big worry about these globalised supply chains we've created around food is they're actually really, really insecure.

What that means is when climate starts to affect our food system, which we're already seeing i.e. extreme heat, lack of rain, unpredictable weather patterns, etc, or conflict like we saw with the war in Ukraine, the supply chains break down really, really quickly.

This destabilises the cost of food, having a much shorter supply chain. Sourcing locally allows you to be resilient and to not be hugely impacted by these global swings.

Secondly, beyond resiliency, we're also talking about the local economy. Supporting those businesses in your local economy, to keep your local economy vibrant.

[For] pubs, their economic future also depends on the health of the local economy. Pubs are places are frequented by their local communities, that are regular eating establishments.

You want that healthy economic activity in your local community, which comes from supporting those farmers growing in your area, supporting those supply chains, those producers and those things that are happening in your area, which allows for that kind of robustness.

"The hospitality sector is one of the few places in our lives where all of the core issues around sustainability, intersect and come to life for people."

From a food perspective, [local sourcing can mean] fresher food so you end up with less spoilage in in your kitchens because you have longer to use that produce – it's fresh when it's coming to you, you no longer have to store it, the wastage spoilage is driven down by that. You end up with more delicious, seasonal fresh food.

Young's is an example of where you've got a large pub chain, but they work really closely with kind of each pub having their own sourcing strategy and really supporting pubs in building those local relationships.

Their supply chains look completely different depending on which pub you're talking about and where because they have so much autonomy around supporting this idea of local procurement.

Tell me more about the lower carbon farmed ingredients compared to locally sourced produce.

A good example of the paradox on this one is tomatoes and salad crops where growing British tomatoes all year round, you might be able to say, these are local tomatoes.

But if they're being grown in hot houses, needing to be heated and using electricity, the carbon footprint of that tomato versus getting that tomato from an organic farm in northern Spain or Italy because transport become more efficient over time, the actual carbon footprint is about the farming of that ingredient.

You'll have a lower carbon footprint for an Italian, higher quality, better farmed Italian tomato than a British tomato, grown under heat in December.

Not to say there aren't some great tomato farmers happening in the UK such as in Kent and the Isle of Wight, but that's an example of where of that paradox [can happen].

For pubs, even if it can't be everything on your menu, starting to look at how you really hero those local ingredients.

Image: Getty/ozgurdonmaz

Let's say you are landlocked somewhere in the middle of the country, maybe you want to think about how you pivot your menu to be really [championing] those ingredients that come from nearby.

You still might have fish and chips on the menu, but maybe it's not going to be the hero dish that you're really celebrating. Instead you want to celebrate the pork or the vegetables coming from your local area.

How can businesses improve when it comes to local sourcing?

Fundamentally good supply chains are transparent supply chains. It's about knowing all of those links and if you're sourcing locally, those are going to be fewer.

"Start building your menus to be more adaptive."

Getting to know where your ingredients are coming from, from a farm level, rather than just I purchased it from a wholesaler or whatever.

Really, building those relationships with producers can be really valuable. The other thing is, is if you if you really build those relationships, one of the things we found during Covid, as an example, was when supply chains started going wrong, those suppliers really favoured those businesses that had strong relationships with them.

They were the ones that were the least affected when things started going funny or when prices started to soar, where they were able to be more mindful of their payment terms, or whatever that might need to be, because they had direct relationships from those restaurants to the farm.

Start building your menus to be a little bit more adaptive. Let's say that your roast is going to come with seasonal veg, instead of saying your roast is always going to come with carrots and peas.

This can allow you really to make use of those gluts that happened during seasons. If your farmer has loads of cabbage, this means you're then able to drive down the cost of the cabbage, because they got loads of it to get rid of.

By adapting your menu to make sure you're able to serve that cabbage instead of peas on that dish. Those are all things restaurants and pubs can do to help make it easier to source locally.

What is something pubs aren’t necessarily considering about sustainability and their menus?

A bugbear of mine, where I feel like restaurants have or the high street has responded much faster and pubs are lagging behind is on kids menus.

I've been at the SRA for eight years before the SRA I used to work for Jamie Oliver on campaigning on school food.

This is an issue that tracked for a very, very long time. When I got to the SRA, we started talking about how restaurants really need to be serving two portions of veg with every meal they serve.

If you think about it, anybody in England could tell you that you're supposed to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day.

Image: Getty/StockPlanets

The statistics are abysmal in this country in terms of how few people are actually eating their five a day and especially children. If you actually start to think about it really practically, you take a step back and you say okay, what does the kid have for breakfast? They've got cereal and milk. What does the kid have for lunch? Maybe they had a ham sandwich.

Maybe they had a ham sandwich and an apple, great for the apple. Maybe they had some cucumber sticks or something like that, so now you're at two portions of veg on the day.

That means anytime that they go out for dinner, if there's not a minimum of two portions on the plate, there’s no chance anyone, even the best eater, no child is ever going to meet those targets.

If you look at the statistics around how often children actually do eat out of the home in this country, it's quite high.

We started working with other organisations like the Food Foundation, and the Soil Association’s Out To Lunch​ campaign​.

The high street has responded has kind of slowly over time. You've now seen huge transformation on children's menus and what's available.

The vast majority of pubs up and down the country are serving maybe chips and a portion of peas as being the two sides.

That a real point, a really easy win, where pubs can take a look at how restaurants have tackled that.

JD Wetherspoon is a good example where they've taken inspiration from restaurants and they've made some transformations on their kids menu, because of it.

There are some really great examples and some really poor examples in pubs and restaurants. There are some really great pubs out there. They don't need to look at restaurants really, they can just look at other great pubs.

Groups like Peach Pubs are doing brilliant things across the board. Heartwood Collection has worked incredibly hard on its sourcing and just received three stars from us.

Those businesses have worked really hard on sourcing in particular, to say, let's really build those relationships with our suppliers and let's build a much more transparent supply chain.

  • The Morning Advertiser has launched the Green Initiative, which is supported by Molson Coors Beverage Company and Brewfitt.

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