Passion for Provenance

Foodservice Footprint Tony-checking-produce-300x199 Passion for Provenance Best Practice  Reynolds is renowned as a producer of fresh sustainable produce to the catering industry. The company is driven by the passion of Managing Director Tony Reynolds to promote sustainability throughout the business.


In the last issue of Foodservice Footprint, Chef Steve Munkley commented on how impressed he was with Tony Reynolds’ commitment to and passion for sustainability. We asked Reynolds why this issue is so important in his business?


“We at Reynolds have recognised that as a sizeable and growing business, any reduction of our impact on the environment will be positive. We have an extremely diverse supplier base in order to ensure we satisfy our customer demands for consistency of quality and of course, availability. With this comes accountability and, as a family business, we are acutely aware of our responsibilities to future generations – not just in our immediate locality or the UK, but across the globe,’ says Reynolds.


“Sustainability is about understanding the impact of our business practices on the environment, and how we can best manage these to ensure that natural resources are not depleted and are available for the future. We also need to understand how our customers define sustainability as we need to ensure that we find common ground.


“We work with each of our suppliers to assess the benefits for both parties, so the environmental initiatives are often specific to each grower. This is a topic that we covered in the September issue of Foodservice Footprint.


“For example, with regard to our smaller growers, we will often support them to achieve technical compliance and best practices. Elsewhere, our focus with the larger multinational companies may be working on worldwide initiatives, such as water footprinting or social and ethical issues. No two supplier relationships are ever quite the same, but it’s fundamentally about working together and building long term partnerships,” Reynolds tells Footprint.


“Our growers share our passion for environmental issues. For example, one of our key leaf growers has dedicated some of their valuable land resource to a sizeable nature reserve, focused on giving back to the environment what they have taken in the form of crops. One of our potato suppliers is so focused on sustainability that they have designed all their activities around the concept. The pack-house is fully self sufficient in terms of water and electricity usage as the resources are produced in such an environmentally efficient way,” says Reynolds. In the July issue of Footprint, Ian Booth, Reynolds’ technical director, gave an overview of water footprinting and how this is being used to complete good practice in water usage throughout the supplier base.


Reynolds works closely with a vegetable supplier who is investing heavily in the farming community within Kenya, which really does demonstrate best practice as far as sustainability goes, he believes. “Here, there is a huge focus on education, with the workers constructing classrooms and furniture for local schools. Funding is also being made available to ensure they can attract the best teachers. In these communities schools can prove a huge benefit to all, providing education for adults as well as children. Investment in education for future generations can be absolutely vital to production in countries like Kenya. It means the long term viability of the community can be assured.”


Steve Munkley also said that if small growers cannot afford their own truck to deliver produce to Reynolds, the company will send a Reynolds lorry to them. “Steve is quite right in what he says. We can’t send one to Kenya, but when we can collect produce from the farm gate, on the back of another Reynolds delivery, we will. One less vehicle on the road is great news for the environment and it also helps our growers spend more time on what they do best – growing!” says Reynolds.


“However, in addition to minimising the amount of deliveries made to and by Reynolds, packaging is a key focus for us. For example we collect mushroom crates from customers and return these to suppliers via existing deliveries to be used again in packaging. We also work with re- usable crates wherever we can. All of these activities are measured, which enables us to set ourselves, and our suppliers, targets for the future,” he says.


When it comes to growing, produce though, Reynolds leaves it up to the farmer. “Frankly, our growers are the experts in this area. However, by working in partnership with our suppliers, rather than taking a short-term view, we are able to help them plan for the future thus guaranteeing them consistent, healthy business. As well as security for our growers, this in turn ensures availability of product for our customers in years to come – in short, real sustainability.“


What is Reynolds’ take on organic produce? “We are here to satisfy our customer’s needs and we have organic produce available should they require it. In truth, the demand amongst our customers is quite limited and we find much more emphasis placed on British produce, seasonality and provenance.

The fact is that we live in a world of diminishing resource and not enough space to grow food to feed an ever-growing population means the GM debate is ongoing, so what does Reynolds think about this burning issue. “I don’t think GM is the only answer. By investing in communities such as those I spoke about in Kenya, we help to increase the world’s food supply by developing land resource which would otherwise be left barren, or at best under-utilised. The dual benefit of course is that we are providing a better standard of life for those who live there – now and for the future.


“We are also in constant dialogue with suppliers regarding best practices and sustainable farming techniques. Many of our growers are using and investigating new, natural methods and techniques to help reduce disease and improve yields. This often results in new varieties and strains that enable us to offer our customers real innovation on their menus. In short, GM might be an easy answer, but there is much more the industry can do to increase output if we work together.


Technology is playing an important role in the complex sustainability battle, for example maximising yields and fulfilling consumer demand in out of season produce. “Where technology can play an active part in yield maximisation, such as irrigation, then this must be a good thing – as long as it’s not damaging to the environment of course. It’s our duty to ensure food security for our customers and society as a whole,” concludes Reynolds.


Being a national company but at the forefront of the local debate, Footprint asked Reynolds to define ‘local’ for our readers. “Each of our customers has their own individual needs to suit their business. Some require produce to be sourced within a certain catchment area and others simply require British produce. It’s our customer’s own definition and understanding of local sourcing that is important to Reynolds and through our network of national suppliers we’re able to meet these individual expectations.” he explains. “For this reason we don’t define local as such. We simply strive to keep our own food miles and deliveries to a minimum, using British growers wherever possible.”


And he reckons seasonality is not a fashion to be put on and off with the zeitgeist. “Our customers tell us that seasonality is hugely important to them and to their diners, and with the renewed focus on British produce even more so. For this reason, Reynolds is always looking for more British growers to ensure we meet these needs. Our aim is to provide customers with information regarding seasonality and provenance in a timely manner so they can their plan menus effectively and take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Some fruit and vegetable seasons are so short that it’s really important to get the pick of the crop when it’s there,” says Reynolds.


The retailers have stringent criteria for the vegetables they sell, which has a huge impact on wastage. But is it the same in foodservice? “Firstly, we feel that our standards match the most stringent within retail as our customers expect the best quality produce. However, this doesn’t mean that ‘inferior’ product is necessarily wasted as it is most often used elsewhere in the food chain; in manufactured products, for example.


“Lesser grade product is also perfect for usage in soups, stews and other dishes where flavour is possibly more important than visible appearance. For this reason, where we can, we make these products available for those customers who wish to use them to enhance their margins.


“It’s also worth mentioning that our growers are increasingly managing their crops better with advanced growing techniques; this ensures a superior end product, significantly helping to reduce the percentage of class II vegetables available. The reality is that in a lot of instances, the lesser grade fruit and vegetables aren’t even available to buy in quantity.”


And Reynolds is finding that the way to achieving sustainability is by forging a partnership with customers. “One of our longest customer relationships has been built over the past 20 years. As both parties have grown, we have worked together to keep our carbon footprint to an absolute minimum. For example, our reusable crate scheme, used to deliver individual pieces of mixed fruit and vegetables, was developed as a joint initiative. This enabled us to significantly reduce the amount of waste cardboard we deliver to this customer and the procedure has since been rolled out throughout our business, leading to even greater savings – again, it’s all about partnerships.


There’s certainly a drive by chefs to source more Red Tractor produce and as a result Reynolds is taking on more accredited produce, he says. “We get asked for varying types of information from different chefs, but most concerns the provenance of our products. Our customers have different interpretations of what sustainable means and our mission is to understand these and rise to any challenges thrown at us.”


Sustainability doesn’t begin and end with foodstuffs and Reynolds has put in place a huge number of initiatives to help drive down its carbon footprint. These include, by no means exclusively; advanced driver training; mpg targets; ‘smart-drive’ technology; biofuel; sophisticated route planning systems: urban artic vehicles and of course regular maintenance.


“Most recently, we have just invested in new double decker articulated vehicles which will allow us to considerably reduce the amount of deliveries we make to regional depots. We are constantly looking at the viability of more environmentally friendly transportation options,” says Reynolds. “Of course, our supply chain flexibility and national coverage also enables customers to consolidate products with us, resulting in fewer deliveries.


Ian Booth, Reynolds’ technical director, has just been involved in carbon footprinting the company “which has proved to be a lengthy procedure, but we are somewhat fortunate as our business has been measuring itself against certain criteria for some time now, so we have plenty of historical data.


“Reynolds is fortunate to have Ian’s expertise and the entire technical department as a resource, which smaller businesses may not have. We also employed the skills of a Masters graduate who has worked hard to pull the data from each department together, using the Carbon Footprint Standard as a guide. Regardless of the complexities, it is something all businesses should do. If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it!,” he says.


So what new efforts to make the business more sustainable lie in store for 2011, Footprint wondered. “We have many activities on the horizon including consolidated waste management schemes, a huge focus on British produce and distribution initiatives such as electric vehicle trials to name a few.


“The board is also about to review Reynolds’ environmental targets for next year and I look forward to keeping you updated on our progress,” says Reynolds.