House Style: Interview with Caroline Fry from Charlton House

Foodservice Footprint Caroline-200x300 House Style: Interview with Caroline Fry from Charlton House Interviews: Industry professionals  Naturally Good Charlton House CH&Co Caroline Fry Footprint’s Charles Miers caught up with Charlton House Managing Director Caroline Fry following the recent brand re-launch of this highly successful contract caterer.

Q: Charlton House is transforming corporate staff restaurants into vibrant and colourful foodie environments with displays of fresh produce and the use of natural materials such as wood, glass, wicker and slate. The ‘Naturally Good’ concept will now be rolled out across the majority of Charlton House sites in the coming months. At the brand re-launch the other day I was very impressed by a lot of the changes that you are trying to make. I was thinking along the lines of the ‘greening’ of the Sony staff restaurant can you tell me more about this?

A: The ‘Naturally Good’ concept encapsulates everything we stand for, from healthy eating and sustainability to the use of fresh, sustainable raw ingredients and natural, raw talent. We put so much energy and investment into the quality of our raw produce – working closely with our suppliers to get the very best – that we thought it was vital to underline this commitment in a very tangible and visual way. People eat with their eyes and now our customers are surrounded by a feast of fresh produce. Long before the concept became a reality, we used Sony, in Weybridge as a test site, with the help of Meggan Edwards, on-site manager and her team. The response was overwhelming from all. Some of the Sony customer feedback included: “Looks just like Jamie Oliver’s restaurant.” “Very trendy.” “Looks like Borough Market.” “Can I do my shopping here?” “I love the boxes.”


Q: How can sustainability and environmental initiatives translate into real business savings and business wins?

A: It’s no longer about being seen to do the right things. Paying lip service to environmental issues just isn’t enough. Clients and potential clients can see through the hype. They want to see tangible proof that a company is making a genuine effort to make a difference. Our ‘Naturally Good’ concept is far more than an interior design project; it reflects everything we stand for.

Our work on environmental initiatives started many years ago, long before it became fashionable. For example, in 2005 we became the first and only contractor to remove endangered North Sea cod from our menus. Our clients were hugely supportive and while we will never truly know if it led to new business, it did raise and highlight our commitment to sustainability.

Our track record is very good but we don’t shout about it enough. Two years ago, we really geared up our environmental efforts by setting out to gain ISO14001 across all of our sites nationwide. This made us really drill down into each site’s potential to reduce its carbon footprint.

Our goal is to have this in all 140 restaurant sites within the CH&Co group, right across the brands. Many organisations are satisfied to gain ISO14001 certification solely for their Head Office site but we feel that our environmental responsibility goes much further than that. To date, 24 sites, as well as the group’s corporate headquarters at Bryants Farm in Dunsden, near Reading, have certification.


Q: Has any of this led to new business?

A: It’s hard to assess whether any of this has resulted in new business gains. But reputation is everything in this business. And it’s not enough to make promises. We deliver and we commit. Take our Best of British campaign as an example; we can demonstrate our on-going commitment to buying British produce through the annual data which we supply to Defra. Our figures for 2009 show that 92 per cent of our beef is British, 82 per cent of the legumes we purchase are British, 90 per cent of our potatoes are UK grown and 35 per cent of soft fruit.


Q: Can you tell me how important greenness is at the tendering stage?

A: An organisation’s green purchasing credentials are now perceived to be a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. When it comes to tendering, we wouldn’t even make it past the ‘pre-qual’ stage if we didn’t have the right green credentials. It’s difficult to quantify the impact our environmental efforts have on business development and growth but what we do know is that companies tend to seek out like-minded contractors who share their ethos and CSR commitments.


Q: What about business savings? Has green purchasing managed to reduce expenditure?

A: Yes, there are definitely some business savings, such as where we have cut down on disposables, for example. Introducing more vegetarian dishes is also more cost effective and not only results in healthier gross profit margins but has the added environmental and health benefits.


Q: Within the new brand philosophy you have built in principles of an environmental nature. Can you tell me more about where you are going with this in the future?

A: We are committed to doing more of the same. For example, we are taking our Best of British campaign to a new level right across the brands by committing to the Red Tractor scheme. This is a big investment but it ticks all of the boxes in terms of food safety and hygiene, animal welfare, environmental impact and traceability.

It give us an opportunity to inform our customers of where their food has come from – from farm to fork and it supports our CSR policies. This is a CH&Co initiative so it will touch every brand – not just Charlton House – of the business and is very much in keeping with the ethos set down by Tim and Robyn Jones back in 1991 when they established the company.


Q: Finally, Caroline, you have been a real driver of environmental issues within the business and we would like to explore how this has been built in to the make-up of the company.

A: We feed up to 70,000 people a day so our business is bound to have an impact on the environment. My goal is to minimise that impact and to continue to encourage our staff and clients to do what they can to make improvements. The very nature of our business means that we have to take great care to ensure we have as little impact on the environment as possible. By taking a conscientious approach to food in the workplace, we hope that others within the industry will follow suit. Many of our initiatives are tiny steps towards a greener planet. Others are company-wide initiatives, which we hope will make a difference to the environment in which we live. For example, David Cavalier, the Michelin-starred chef and food director for the CH&Co Group, believes there are many clear benefits in giving vegetarian food the attention it deserves; better choice for customers, a healthier diet, lower carbon footprint, sustainability and cost. It’s all about awareness and keeping people informed and conscious of how they can make a difference. The more voices; the more noise.


Since Charlton House launched itself into the business and industry staff catering arena in 1991 the company has become a trusted brand, pioneering creative and healthy menus for staff restaurants. Successful expansion means that its portfolio of corporate clients now extends throughout England, Scotland and Wales with Charlton House promising a sound ethical approach to the environment and a commitment to value, provenance and sustainability.