Quirks of Nature

CH&Co extols the many benefits of using Category 2 produce and says nature’s misfits have their part to play in the battle to promote sustainability.


Every year tonnes of perfectly edible fresh produce is thrown away because it is not cosmetically perfect. Aware of the environmental impact of such waste, CH&Co has been purchasing ungraded mushrooms and peppers for the past three years. Now the independent catering group is putting other Category 2 produce under the spotlight.


Caroline Fry, managing director of Ch&Co, says: “Our procurement team is working very closely with nominated suppliers to take advantage of ungraded produce, wherever possible. The availability of certain produce is erratic, by its very nature due to seasonality but where we can, we purchase Category 2 from them, enabling us to maintain full traceability of the products and ensuring they are still ‘fit for purpose’ with a quality appropriate for our business.”


Ch&Co spends £75k annually with its leading peppers supplier alone. Of this, 50 per cent is now ‘ungraded’. The peppers are still perfect for cooking purposes and the saving is around 25 per cent against the Grade A individually- boxed peppers.


“It means that we are not just doing our best to reduce waste, but there is also a commercial benefit,” says Caroline. “At a time when food cost inflation is putting all budgets under unprecedented pressure, the cost benefits help us to at least mitigate against some of the massive increases.”


But it’s not all about saving money; the main motivation is avoiding waste and reducing landfill.


“There is nothing wrong with blemished, mis-shapen produce. Just because a pepper has a bump or two doesn’t mean that it tastes any differently. Obviously, we are very selective as to what we will purchase as we have to keep our quality standards high but when it’s something like potatoes or tomatoes, it makes perfect commercial and environmental sense to use them. Consequently, we are now taking advantage of ungraded-size potatoes from our supplier, 4°C. Baking potatoes are our biggest usage and these must be graded for size, but for general ‘mashing’ types, the ungraded-size potatoes are completely acceptable.”


But there is a limit to what Ch&Co will consider purchasing. For example, ungraded fruit is unlikely to appear in its restaurants. Having recently trialed Category 2 bananas, this is not a route the independent caterer will follow again.


“Blemished fruit will never appear in our restaurants, just as one wouldn’t expect to find it on supermarket shelves. We will never compromise our fresh food standards or do anything to damage our customers’ and clients’ perception of us.


“However, when it comes to other products which are chopped and blended into our dishes every day, we will continue to keep an open mind and avail of seasonal, ungraded items. Mushrooms are a great example; approximately 75 per cent of our mushroom usage is now ungraded.”


Citing future world food shortages and excessive landfill, Caroline Fry and the team behind her at CH&Co are passionate about using produce that may never get eaten otherwise.


It seems that nature’s misfits have a place after all.