SMALL HOSPITALITY companies are being offered the chance to cut the cost of the MSC seafood certification by a third.
Sustainable procurement can be expensive, especially for small companies without the financial clout to buy products and services in bulk. But for independent restaurants and fish and chip shops help is at hand thanks to a new “group certificate” initiative set up by a former employee of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The ROC Group, run by Ruth Westcott, will open up the MSC sustainable seafood scheme to smaller foodservice firms, spreading the cost of their certification.
Half the seafood eaten in the UK is out of home, with chip shops at the heart of the British relationship with seafood. Westcott, ROC’s MD, therefore has high hopes for the initiative. “There are already over 30 restaurants and chippies MSC certified but, with the right mechanism in place, that number could reach into the thousands,” she explains. “This is a really exciting time for independents and this new route to certification will open up MSC to a new audience.“
The bulk of the costs for MSC “chain of custody” certification – which permits the use of the MSC ecolabel on menus – comes down to site inspections, with each single-site business visited by an auditor each year. For larger catering groups and chains, however, only a sample of sites are audited provided there is someone centrally managing the group and ensuring that all sites follow the requirements.
Westcott’s plan is to join lots of small businesses together under a group certificate, thereby requiring fewer audits across the group and lower costs. Having previously worked for the MSC as commercial manager and overseen a similar group certification project with The University Caterers Organisation, she claims members could save “up to a third” on the cost of assessment. However, the assessments are no less rigorous.
“I visit each restaurant before they can join the group to check they are keeping the necessary records and have carried out training. After they have joined the group, the restaurant carries out a remote, paper-based audit annually to check ongoing compliance. Because I use a mixture of on-site and remote audits, I am able to reduce the costs,” she says. Westcott will act as the ROC Group auditor and as such must ensure that all sites comply with the MSC requirements. She is then audited by an independent auditor.
The only specifications for joining are that the business is UK based and a “foodservice” establishment. Small businesses that do outside catering, as well as schools and public sector sites are also eligible. Those with multiple sites can join the group, but for businesses with more than six outlets there might be further cost savings in having their own group certificate.
Olley’s Fish Experience, in south London, was one of the first to sign up. The owner, Harry Niazi, says the process is “really simple”.
“There is a restaurant handbook which explains the MSC’s traceability requirements, which I read through to check what we needed to do. We then booked in for a visit from the group manager who checked our storage, labelling and record keeping procedures. Not everything was perfect and since the visit we have started to record our stocktakes – so we always know how much MSC fish has come into and out of our business,” he adds.
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