Interview: Spirit Pub Company’s head of supply chain and purchasing

SPIRIT PUB Company’s head of supply chain and purchasing talks to Footprint about sustainability advances in the pub sector.


Niki Goddard: Tell us a little about the sustainability stakes in the pub sector. Ahead or behind the sustainability agenda?


Vance Fairman–Smith: Good question! We have seen good progress with WRAP’s HaFSA but I think as a sector we are still fragmented and do not truly collaborate enough on the sustainability agenda. This will have to change as we have enormous leverage.


NG: What has driven Spirit to take such a pro-active approach to sustainability?


VF-S: Spirit was an early adopter of the requirement to address waste as an important cost category and to create a sustainable solution to reduce costs by unique recycling solutions. We have 750 managed and 450 leased pubs so the opportunity was staring us in the face.


NG: You have worked particularly hard on logistical opportunities to close loops?


VF-S: We designed a unique reverse logistics solution that has underpinned our waste recycling initiative. Over the last 3 years it has become part of everyday practice within Spirit pubs. It’s been a crazy journey but very rewarding.


NG: Are these initiatives making a measurable difference?


VF-S: The introduction of the waste recycling via Kuehne & Nagel reduced our waste costs by 30%. It created a new substantial recycled commodity value and I am very proud that we are now recycling over 16,000 tonnes of tin, oil, card, plastic and food waste per year. I know the vast majority, pre scheme launch, would have ended up in landfill. Let’s not forget the commercial aspect; we benefit significantly from the commodity values.


NG: What were the biggest challenges in the implementation of these initiatives?


VF-S: We under-estimated the impact at pub level when we introduced the scheme. Initially we reduced general waste bins far too quickly. The main issues we faced were high levels of contamination on waste returns from pubs. We soon learnt that we needed to support pubs more with processes on how to efficiently recycle in a busy kitchen environment whilst avoiding additional costs or delay of service.


NG: Did you have internal engagement?


VF-S: Yes, actually surprisingly we had high levels of internal engagement but we didn’t really get close enough to the people who were actually recycling in the pubs. Initially we failed to really sell the benefits other than cost reduction as part of a bigger cost line. After the first year we introduced a credit scheme so pubs got a financial credit to their P&L based on what they recycled via Kuehne & Nagel. This really drove positive behaviour and now we are engaging with the teams via social media and with positive messaging within team inductions. With our partner K&N, from July, we are also introducing an area support manager’s role and a key part of this role will be visiting pubs to support the sustainability message on waste and energy.


NG: How much help did you rely on the cooperation of your suppliers and partners?


VF-S: Massively, without the ongoing support from our key partner suppliers this would not have been possible. We are still on the journey but the Spirit vision has been fully embraced.


NG: What next?


VF-S: Within 12 months our main focus is to raise awareness around energy management with the objective of equaling the impact we have achieved on waste. We will also be focusing on how we can reduce repair and maintenance costs at our pubs. We will be analysing our current supply chain infrastructure and benchmarking product life-cycle costs, ensuring we refurbish and recycle as much as possible with disposal as the very last option. I want to ensure we start communicating to and engaging with our guests more effectively to highlight the work Spirit is doing to minimise the impact to the local environment which underpins our pubs being a key part of the local community. We can’t take our eye off the ball though, so we need to continue the work commenced by WRAP on getting closer to our suppliers on how we can reduce waste impacts at pub level.


NG: Would you say that sustainability is a business principle built into Spirit’s business model and will it be an ongoing journey?


VF-S: Sustainability is a very real aspect of operations within the Spirit group. Its not merely an add-on we just report on in our annual report but is regarded as a key business initiative to drive benefits and support our ambition to be No.1 within the hospitality sector.


NG: What is your personal ambition for Spirit over the coming 5 years?


VF-S: My ambition is for Spirit to be recognised as a leader within the hospitality industry for having driven the sustainability agenda in the pub sector. I want to continue pushing boundaries and being a true innovator. Most important for me is my work to support wider industry initiatives. The thing that makes me so proud is when I hear the numerous positive stories about recycling from our publicans whether managed, leased or franchise. I want this to echo throughout the estate on all of our initiatives.