Chasing Origins Sustainably

Foodservice Footprint Tamsin-Gane-226x300 Chasing Origins Sustainably Best Practice  Tamsin Gane sustainable procurement Sodexo Exactly what is ‘local’ and are people confusing it with ‘origin’? Then again, does ‘sustainable’ mean ’local’? Foodservice Footprint put Tamsin Gane, Sustainable Procurement Manager of Sodexo, on the spot and asked her to make all clear.


People think that Red Tractor equals environmentally friendly, writes Tamsin Gane, but doesn’t mean it’s more sustainable. The Red Tractor is an independent mark of quality. It guarantees that the food we buy comes from farms and food companies that meet high standards of food safety and hygiene, animal welfare and environmental protection. To link it just to the environment over-simplifies what the Red Tractor mark is about. For example, for some people it’s the UK provenance and supporting UK producers that matters most, for others it’s the traceability.


As set out in the Better Tomorrow Plan, Sodexo’s sustainability strategy to 2020, Sodexo is committed to sustainable procurement and, for us, what stands out about the Red Tractor is traceability. This is the first point that needs to be considered when tackling supply chain sustainability as you can’t improve if you don’t know where your products are coming from.


As a term, ‘sustainability’ has caught many people’s interest, which is great, but it’s very important to be clear about what it means from the outset. At Sodexo, we understand ‘sustainability’ in the wider sense: it’s not just about the environment but about the integration of social, economic and environmental factors into business decisions.


With this in mind, it follows that local doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable. For example, a product might sustain a local economy in the short term but be unsustainable in the longer term because of poor labour practices, environmentally damaging production methods or poor animal welfare standards. Seen in this light, the reason why sustainable development is such a challenge becomes clear: it’s about understanding and weighing up often conflicting social, economic and environmental trade-offs.


A classic example is seasonality. During the northern European winter our diet would be very limited if we stuck to local in-season produce. In foodservice, sticking to ‘local’ also brings a degree of risk in terms of guaranteed availability and quality. We have fantastic producers in the UK and foodservice has an important role to play in supporting them, hence our work with the Red Tractor. However, the integration of social, economic and environmental factors into our decisions means that sourcing beyond local UK producers must be a reality.


When we made our commitment to sustainable procurement public a few years ago, we adopted Defra’s definition of ‘local’ – produce grown or reared in the UK – as our starting point but we’ve gone much further. For example, we use all sorts of maps to identify regional produce and overlay seasonality too.


In deciding whether a mark is the right one, it’s fundamental to know what you’re looking for and the extent to which the mark meets you expectation. Different people or businesses have different legitimate focus areas. For us and for many of our clients and customers, the Red Tractor mark addresses a number of issues and that is why Sodexo has become its first company-wide member.


The Red Tractor mark guarantees traceability, which means we know for certain where our produce comes from, and it’s a recognised way of supporting UK produce. The environmental and animal husbandry aspects of the mark are also important and contribute to making the Red Tractor a mark with broad appeal.

Any sort of food grown or raised anywhere in the world is more or less sustainable depending on a wide variety of factors including land use, land use change, feed stock, fertiliser, labour practices, animal welfare, processing, transport and so on. To take a view on a product’s ‘sustainability’ merely on the basis of geographic provenance is to over- simplify in the extreme. This is precisely why ‘sustainability’ attracts so much attention, intrigue and confusion: it is very complex owing to the huge number of variables and trade-offs that have to be taken into consideration.


When it comes to mileage, what is ‘local’ depends very much on where you are but we don’t believe a set radius for local is desirable, let alone practicable, for a foodservice business that is committed to sustainable procurement.


We promote the fact that 100 per cent of Sodexo’s fresh poultry and pork is reared in the UK, the overwhelming majority of our fresh beef, 50 per cent of our fresh fruit and vegetables and all of our fresh milk and cream is from the UK. We also ensure that all of our eggs are ‘lion’ marked which means that they are from British farms. We do this not because of ‘miles’ in isolation but because marks like the Red Tractor bring with them assurances in a number of areas which, when taken in combination, support our commitment to sustainable procurement.


Sodexo’s position is set out in the Better Tomorrow Plan which embraces social, economic and environmental factors including a commitment to sustainable procurement of land based produce as well as fish and seafood. Many of our clients and customers understand the issues and value the commitment we’ve made to tackling shared challenges.


They care because they understand the issues many are already addressing them in their home and work lives, and they see Sodexo as a trusted partner. For others, sustainability is awash with confusion but, as a large organisation that is committed to corporate citizenship, we have a role to play in engaging with businesses and people to create a common understanding of what it’s all about.