Footprint puts an equipment distributor and a major manufacturer on the spot to ask whether they think the UK foodservice industry is really prepared to go the sustainable route when new kit is specified.
Nick Howe, MD of London- based distributor Court Catering Equipment, and Bill Downie MD of eco friendly commercial warewashing giant Meiko (UK) tell it how it really is and their take is not exactly encouraging: it seems the UK hospitality industry is a veritable hot bed of cold feet when it comes to buying into sustainable equipment.
Both Downie and Howe are of the opinion that a large proportion of the industry is not committing to purchasing sustainable equipment because of cost or operational constraints even though the benefits to be reaped over time are extremely positive. Every other customer we get says they are looking at putting in more sustainable kit. But the reality is, when we spec the kitchen with eco friendly equipment there is a short term cost implication and they back off fast. But if the customer took a longer view and factored in life time costs of the equipment, the savings on running costs would pay for them, says Howe.
They both also say there is a lot of confusion about what the most energy efficient products are so caterers start off from the back foot when it comes to making the right choices. Nevertheless, according to Howe, refrigeration manufacturers seem to have got a grip on what is required. Some manufacturers have gone a long way down the road and I am impressed with Gram for one: their new cabinets switch to dormant outside busy periods saving energy very efficiently, he says.
It is very hard for operators to make informed choices between any types of commercial catering equipment because claims for sustainability are made by the manufacturers themselves and not by any independent body, says Downie. Unlike food labelling, there is no industry standard.
One cannot say categorically one piece of equipment is better than another. For example, is a Falcon six burner range better than one from Moorwood Vulcan, Lincat or Parry? There is no way of measuring it, says Howe.
Manufacturers put information into the marketplace about their products saying that it will save you £20 a day. Compared with what? asks Downie in exasperation; he advocates a UK standard comparable to the Energy Star rating system used in the US. Manufacturers in the US have to pay to have their machines tested to a set standard the Energy Star system.
We should be doing the same here. Equipment should be tested like for like and given a rating between one and five stars according to its energy efficiency. You can then go to the customer and say yes, this is a five star oven. You can measure it! By this means you hand the buyer the means to judge. We need an industry body to oversee and develop this much as WRC has with WRAS. Industry bodies such as the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CEDA) and Catering Equipment Distributors Association (CEDA) need to be addressing this, says Downie.
The Catering for a Sustainable Future Group is currently doing work on monitoring energy consumption of catering equipment in school kitchens to try and set benchmarks for energy use but this will take time. And, of course, every operation is different a primary school is a very different kettle of fish to a hotel, a university, a pub or a restaurant.
Take some not all breweries. They are cost driven and looking at the short term only. Yes, you can try to promote sustainability to them but most pub kitchens are not big and they are looking for speed, says Howe who reckons these considerations bounce sustainability concerns straight into the back seat. More and more operations want everything turned around quicker and faster. Now, if we were talking cars you would need a bigger engine. It is the same here. Those operators certainly arent looking at lifetime cost which is what you have to factor in to get the most benefit from any investment in sustainable equipment.
On the other hand say a big hotel with 400 rooms-plus takes one of Bills big rack warewashers equipped with heat recovery, heat pump and reduced kW loading plus chemical savings. It is easy to work out the savings over the projected life of the machine, says Howe. That machine will be on the go 365 days of the year, for most of the day, dealing with normal mealtime service plus banqueting, functions and room service, so payback on the energy saving features can be calculated and would be well within the first year.
If you put a similar product into a primary school where it is used one and a half hours a day, five days a week in term time, payback takes forever. This situation has happened because local authorities have decided they only need staff from 10-2 instead of 9-4. In a perfect world we would recommend a smaller machine but it is all about staffing levels. At one time there used to be up to 10 people in the kitchens but not any more, says Howe.
Downie points out: By investing in a semi automatic machine with cutlery lifters and so on, they can reduce staff, but lets be realistic here. The first things that come off when the project goes over budget are the environmentally friendly features such as heat pumps, chemical savings and so on.
It is a situation Howe has come up against many times in recent years. We were called in to design an ecologically friendly kitchen for a restaurant with a sustainable theme. Front of house had a counter made from recycled yogurt pots and the rest of the restaurant was made from other reclaimed and reprocessed materials. No expense was spared. It looked amazing. We specified the equipment for the kitchen and the bill came to £280,000. Unfortunately there was only £150,000 in the budget it had all gone on the restaurant. So what happened? Exactly what Bill said: all the energy saving features were whittled away.
By investing at the front end it is possible to take advantage of the sustainable features. As well as the equipment itself, they should be looking at planned maintenance and breakdown cover. Maintenance is imperative both to prolong longevity and to ensure equipment works properly, says Downie. Dont leave warewashers on standby in between shifts, turn them off. Also if you let them get lime- scaled you can lose 30 per cent of power. The way to be sustainable is to use as little water and energy as possible and maintain your machines.
Howe poses the question: We have been talking about lifetime cost but what is it? It all depends on the equipment and amount of maintenance involved to keep them tip-top. Take fryers there is an awful lot of maintenance involved there. The lifetime of the product depends on day-to-day maintenance and care. The better you look after them the more efficient they are and the longer they last. If you dont look after them then they will be inefficient and they wont last long.
The end user has a lot to answer for and they need to look at efficiencies. Energy management systems that monitor kitchen equipment are useful but they have to be monitored in turn. Who checks them? asked Downie.
Nobody, they both cry in unison. It is the car analogy again, says Howe. How many of us check oil and water nowadays? We dont though we should. We leave it until the service. And that is what happens in commercial kitchens, the day to day upkeep is left to somebody else to take care of. Nobody takes responsibility.
I cannot understand why chefs have the gas burners flaring away it is instant heat and instead of turning the burners off they shove the pans away from them. The trouble is there are a lot of cooks around and I dont mean chefs who just dont know how to use them properly because they havent been taught, says Howe. I cannot tell you how many kitchens I have been in and seen staff defrosting by slinging the stuff in the sink and turning on the cold tap and leaving it run. What a waste when you think that water and energy are the biggest costs you have to pay for up front.
Downie concurs: That hasnt changed in years. I was a chef many years ago. At 4.30 in the morning the ovens would go on full blast for the breakfast shift and they wouldnt go off again until the evening shift left at midnight, says Downie. However, he does have a solution to the problem apply current working practice already used in kitchens up and down the land: The chef buys in food at a price to turn a profit and he gets a bonus for doing that. But I bet many chefs have no idea how much fuel they are using. Put a budget together for that and give the chef the same sort of incentive and I will guarantee energy bills will fall.
According to Howe: It is a sad fact that when it comes to sustainability this is more likely to be achieved on a larger site. The truth is the smaller the kitchen the harder it is to find product that suits. Smaller kitchens, smaller operations, smaller budgets: they simply cannot afford to go along with it. However he does have some words of hope to offer.
Smaller operators should consider joining together to set up a buying consortium so they can negotiate better rates. Although installing traditional six burner ranges is a large part of my business I am going out on a limb here I reckon induction will be the biggest help to small operators searching for sustainable options. Team induction hobs with a combi oven and although this costs more initially, running costs will be less, kitchens will be cooler and the need for extraction will also be reduced. The potential is huge. However, whilst the downside is an all electric kitchen, the upside is if it was gas you would have to flue.
On dishwashers in small kitchens you cannot have heat pumps because of the size of the box, points out Downie, but you can still reduce water consumption, which is one of the big costs, as manufacturers are making tanks smaller. Smaller tanks obviously mean less water but also lower chemical use all of which shows on the bottom line.
Howe has one last comment about the woolliness of some sustainability practice saying: There are times when efforts to reduce the carbon footprint become a joke. On a recent installation we had to provide time sheets for all our movements on the site. The project manager wanted to show the carbon footprint for the project and he asked how we could help reduce it. OK, we said we will come to the installation once a week. But apparently that wouldnt do as they needed us there every day. So we had another think and offered to make one delivery instead of several but that wouldnt do either as it needed to be a phased delivery because there was no room on the site for storage. So before you start you are hamstrung!
Bill Downie is MD of Meiko (UK), manufacturer of a cluster of award winning green warewashers and supplier of environmentally friendly waste management systems. Meiko machines can be found in all sectors of the industry from top end Gleneagles Hotel and Pennyhill Park Hotel to hospitals, universities, prisons and schools through to High Street chains, restaurants and pubs. Meikos aim is to produce machines that not only deliver savings on energy, water and chemical usage but also incorporate fully recyclable components as evidenced by its DV80 hood machine that is 98% recyclable.
Nick Howe is MD of Court Catering Equipment established in 1976 and specialises in the design, supply and installation of commercial catering equipment. Winner of the prestigious Catering Equipment Distributors Association Grand Prix Award 2009 for its work on River Café kitchen, Court Catering Equipment has also undertaken installations at Chelsea Football Club, put in an eco kitchen for Macdonald Manchester Hotel and has recently stepped in at short notice to furnish Ranelagh Primary School, Newham, which is piloting free school meals for all primary schools, with all the equipment it needs for the task.