SUSTAINABILITY IN business is constantly evolving, so how can an organisation keep its approach not only up-to-date but market leading? Amy Fetzer reports on a Bidvest steering group set up to answer just that question.
How can we maintain sustainability in our DNA, keep ahead of the marketplace, and make sure stakeholders meet their client needs? These were the questions posed by Bidvest Foodservice’s group sales and marketing director Andy Kemp.
Keen to ensure Bidvest Foodservice’s refreshed sustainability plan actually meets the needs of their clients, suppliers and a dynamic market, they invited their main stakeholders – a customer, a supplier, industry experts and key members of their own team - to help them identify key priorities for the next 12 months.
The insights that resulted apply across the foodservice industry:
If you want to be the best, benchmark the rest.
By assessing what your competitors are doing in the market place, suggested Paula Moon, brand and communications manager, Nestlé Professional, you can learn from best practice, spot opportunities for leadership, identify areas with significant impacts and find fruitful collaborations.
“There is nothing new in this agenda,” explained Charles Miers, Footprint co-founder, “but it is evolving rapidly and organisations have to stay proactive, because what was market leading last year, is basic standard next year. What is new is our understanding of issues. There is now a great deal of knowledge, which is turning into understanding. The debate has shifted.”
Collaboration is vital.
Collaborate with your clients, suppliers, competitors and the rest of the industry because bringing people together finds the best solutions, explained Charles Miers. Even traditional adversaries, such as pub groups, are coming together to work on distribution models. Other businesses are collaborating to purchase energy together and there is evidence of competitive barriers being broken down.
Data is key.
Verifiable facts and genuine sustainability stories/achievements are crucial, said Shirley Duncalf, head of sustainability, Bidvest Foodservice. Anything that doesn’t have evidence behind it won’t necessarily be treated as robust information. This is why Bidvest uses external verification and experts to find and verify the data needed to measure impacts and talk about achievements.
Soundbites get messages across.
If a supplier, such as Bidvest Foodservice, provide bite-sized information, suggested Wendy Bartlett, CEO, Bartlett Mitchell, this can be used in client communications strategies to engage customers, such as including sustainability stories and stats on consumables, posters or emails.
Clear messages clear confusion.
There was consensus that consumers and clients are often confused by sustainability terminology and certification schemes, and what they actually stand for, so choose clear messages and certifications that will mean something to your stakeholders.
Seek out the personal stories.
These, the group agreed, demonstrate sustainability in action and help translate concepts (such as free-range, local, fairtrade) into a connection with what the consumer is eating (e.g. a case study about the farmer who farmed the beef). These can also be used by catering teams to promote menus/meals.
Flag up certification in procurement/menu systems.
Wendy Bartlett suggested flagging up sustainability credentials, such as free-range or fairtrade, within the menu and procurement ordering system in the same way that allergens are. This information could be used to make purchasing decisions as well as in menu marketing and descriptions.
Ask more from certification schemes.
Across the board from consumers to industry, there is confusion over the plethora of certification schemes and what they mean, agreed the group. Choose the ones that resonate best with your stakeholders, then ask the certification scheme to supply you with stories to use within your communications to translate to your clients, and their customers, what the label means in an engaging way.
Education for all.
Education is crucial across the board, observed Charles Miers. This ranges from the importance of educating customers and stakeholders but also encompasses the importance of sustainability in education in general, and how forward thinking companies are looking into ways of helping to further this agenda.
Engage and understand the next generation.
The younger generation particularly care about sustainability, observed Andy Kemp, group sales and marketing director, Bidvest Foodservice. Baby boomers eat totally differently from “millennials”. Understanding the next generation and educating them about sustainability issues is crucial – such as redressing the issue that waste isn’t a subject touched upon in some catering colleges.
Meet your customers needs, even those they don’t know about yet.
If you provide what consumers seem to want, or say they want, you’ll risk falling behind, especially as trends and interests change, pointed out Brendan Hunter, Wrap. Fast food giants in the States are losing market share to those offering healthier, fresher, less processed alternatives that “millennials” want. Leaders are those who anticipate and keep ahead of the market.
Sugar is a hot topic.
First it was salt, then fat, now sugar is in the spotlight, observed Catherine Hinchcliff, head of customer marketing, Bidvest Foodservice, with the biggest industry interest currently on free-from ranges including free-from sugar and lactose-free choices which are becoming more important. Even small changes in calorie content can have a dramatic impact when you’re feeding vast numbers of people, pointed out Paula Moon, and with obesity such a big issue, it’s time to tackle the elephant in the room. Also, by avoiding sugar, people shouldn’t turn to things high in salt or high in fat. It’s all about balance - replacing one bad thing with another counteracts any good one is trying to do.
Anticipate legislation changes.
This allows your organisation and your clients to prepare, and ultimately makes changes smoother and more cost efficient. “What myself and our customers appreciate about Bidvest is its ability to anticipate legislation,” noted Diana Spellman, Partners In Purchasing. “It identified areas of legislatory change early on and found solutions so that keeping up with the changes wasn’t problematic. For example, when we requested allergens, we got nutritional information too, so we can prepare ourselves for the nutritional changes that are coming.”
The challenge, it was agreed, is often knowing where best to direct efforts when so many areas are deserving of attention. From getting the industry together to decide upon clearer, and perhaps fewer, certification schemes to researching “millennial’” generational trends, or providing more sustainability sound bites for customers, round tables are a great way of exploring the issues. “You’re the conduit,” said Charles Miers, “you bring everyone together.” And those companies, like Bidvest Foodservice, who recognize the value in bringing customers, suppliers and industry experts together to help them keep sustainability a part of their DNA whilst delivering what their customers want, are already one step further along the road to achieving it.