Appetite for Change

California-based contract caterer Bon Appétit has taken steps to drastically reduce its purchase of beef, cheese and tropical fruit and has set itself a tough target to reduce food waste too, in an effort to shave 97,000lb of carbon dioxide from its operation. Jackie Mitchell reports


Bon Appétit Management Company, a contract caterer based in California, aims to reduce beef purchases by 25 per cent, cheese by 10 per cent, tropical fruit by 50 per cent and total food waste by 20 per cent by the end of 2010. According to Bon Appétit, the food waste reduction and diversion is responsible for removing 97,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per week from the atmosphere.


Maisie Greenawalt, vice president, Bon Appétit, says the company is well on the way to achieving these objectives. “These are our goals over a two-year period – in fact we’ve reduced beef consumption

by 33 per cent,” she says. “This is all a concerted effort to lower the carbon footprint. Our dream is to be the premier contract caterer known for its culinary expertise and commitment to socially responsible practices.”


The company has won several awards for its work including the prestigious Ecological Society of America Corporate Award and the United States Excellence in Food Service Award. Bon Appétit aims to reduce the carbon emissions generated by the 80 million meals it serves each year in 400 cafes in colleges, universities and corporations in 29 states of the USA. Clients include eBay, University of Pennsylvania, University of California, Yahoo and Oracle.


Greenawalt says: “We have been willing to take a stand and be a pioneer in this field. Our ethos is how can we make the product supply chain more sustainable? Food must taste great, but food that is grown in a healthy environment and picked at its best ripeness and served next day tastes better than something that’s travelled half way round the world. That’s what matters.”


Bon Appétit has created its own definition of sustainability which it says is: “Food choices that celebrate flavour, affirm regional cultural traditions and support local communities without compromising air, water or soil, now and in the future.”


The contract caterer is achieving these impressive goals through a combination of initiatives including what is described as “chef driven menu engineering”. Greenawalt explains: “To reduce beef, we simply didn’t put it on the menu,” she says. “For example, with starters, we’ll put chicken satay on the menu instead of beef. If a customer wants beef satay, we can provide it, but it won’t be on the menu.”


At colleges, Bon Appétit locates the beef food station right at the end of the line “so if students come in to ‘grab and go’ they will go for chicken and vegetarian options as they will be the first stations they arrive at,” says Greenawalt. “If they want beef, it will be there, but it won’t be that easy to find.” Reducing the amount of beef is a key component of the programme “because regardless of how far it travels or how the animals are raised, beef and cheese come from methane emitting ruminant animals and methane is a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than CO2”, she adds.


Focusing on authentic Asian ethnic cuisine, which uses less meat than its Western counterpart, is another approach “as they tend to use meat as a garnish rather than the main meal in the centre,” says Greenawalt. “We’ll also signpost the origins of food – for example, instead of ‘seasonal vegetables’ we’ll say green beans from a farm 48 miles from here. Instead of tropical fruit, we can use local fruit. If it’s an integral part of something, we’ll have to use it but we won’t just put it on the menu.”


Educating staff and end users is a key element in Bon Appétit’s efforts. At their college contracts, where “eat all you want” offerings are run, posters and tentcards are displayed telling students they can have “all the food they want, but if they go back a second time, don’t just load up your plate. There’s a scrap bucket where staff put uneaten food, which is shown to students to raise awareness,” she says. For staff, food waste training programmes are run annually over a 10-week period. Food waste is measured, staff are made aware of it so everyone can work at reducing it.


The training covers smart buying – making sure the right quantities are purchased and that food is received from the truck and stored in the right way so it doesn’t go bad. “Food waste we do collect gets composted or we’ll look for opportunities such as giving it to a pig farm. Every year we run this programme so these practices will be incorporated into day to day running. Other methods include completely using food so there is little waste. For example, using bones from a meat joint to make a soup or stock instead of throwing them away,” she says. Awareness campaigns designed to achieve press coverage and heighten awareness among consumers and staff are another tactic.


Low Carbon Diet Day, held annually on Earth Day on 22 April by Bon Appétit at all their outlets, educates customers and employees on how to follow a low carbon diet and thus reduce their carbon footprint. “We have five tips for a Low Carbon Diet (see box),” says Greenawalt. “The idea is that everyone can incorporate this into their lifestyle. Each station in our cafes will illustrate one of these tips so people can see how easy it is – like moving away from beef and cheese.”


‘Eat Local Challenge’ is another initiative held annually on 28 September, where all the cafes serve a dish made completely from local ingredients. “Each one has to be local,” says Greenawalt. “So if you have a cheese sandwich, the cheese and lettuce has to be from local suppliers; the bread has to be baked at a local bakery which uses local wheat and yeast and so on. It’s a very strict definition.”


Bon Appétit is actively involved in helping students at the campuses where it provides catering in setting up their own fruit and vegetable gardens. Maisie says this started as a case by case basis when a group of students asked them to help set up a site. It was so successful, the company started more student gardens and included it in their bidding documents for new business. Ultimately, it has produced the ‘Student Garden Guide’ which demonstrates how to set up a student garden, suggesting colleges could create this working with their own caterer.


“It’s a great way of educating students where food comes from,” says Greenawalt. “It gets them to appreciate the importance of food, how it’s grown, how it tastes and what goes into producing it. Hopefully they will take these values into their lives.”


So what is Greenawalt’s advice to British contract caterers? “Look at the entire supply chain and examine the opportunities throughout and see where you can be more sustainable,” she says. “Form partnerships with NGOs – you can never be an expert in every area – and learn from them. For example, we work with Seafood Watch, the Environmental Defence Fund and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.”



Bon appétit’s five tips for a low carbon diet:


1. You bought it, you eat it – don’t waste food: food waste in landfills emits methane gas as it breaks down.

2. Make ‘seasonal and regional’ your food mantra: Regionally-procured food is less likely to have been air-freighted to get to you and usually tastes better because it’s fresher.

3. Move away from beef and cheese: cows and other ruminant animals emit harmful methane gas during their natural digestive process, instead of beef burgers.

4. Stop flying fish and fruit – don’t buy air-freighted food: stick with seafood that was frozen-at-sea and fruit that is locally procured.

5. If it’s processed and packaged, skip it.