The Realities of Sustainability

As Head of Procurement at Reynolds, I am always looking for greater efficiency, better quality, lower prices, higher taste and innovation. However, the recent recession has taught me a lesson. If we look only for continuous improvement and neglect our growers and infrastructure, the gains we make now will be short lived. We need sustainability.

 

Sustainability is about recognising the fragility of farmers and farming and acting upon it. Our future has to be a combination of both viable farming and the protection of our environment.

 

There is much debate around the definition of environmentally friendly farming. A great example is a product grown in Kenya and air freighted to the UK. At first sight, this approach seems like an environmental disaster, but when we look at the situation in a little more detail, the argument is less clear cut. If that farmer in Kenya is growing in season, without artificial lights and heat, if he is investing in water and infrastructure, if he is providing jobs and education to the local communities, if he is providing a long term sustainable future for Kenyans, we could argue that he is working within the true spirit of sustainability.This is the challenge that Reynolds faces every working day.

 

Seasonality and sustainability

A key factor in delivering sustainability is to understand how seasonality can be balanced with consumer demand. With constant leaps in technology, the historic boundaries around seasonality are continuously challenged. The perception and expectation of the general public is that all products are available 12 months of the year in the UK. However, this is not always in the best interests of either consumer experience or sustainability. I would challenge the rationale of having peaches shipped half way across the world, when the quality of the eating experience can be so poor.

However, is it unreasonable to want to eat a healthy salad or a bowl of fresh berries in the UK during the middle of winter? How else will we get our five a day? As the UK climate struggles to grow most salads and fruit types during the winter periods we must venture further afield for supply. And while availability is important, quality, price and food safety are equally so, as they are vital to our customers’ success. This means that sometimes we have to source produce from further away than we would like in order to get the balance right.

 

 

As I work towards my commercial goals, Ian Booth, (Reynolds Technical Director) and his team of technicians are out in the fields with our growers, auditing, probing and supporting. I rely heavily on Ian’s team to validate not only food safety but to ensure that in delivering our commercial proposition we derive a solid, sustainable supply base.

 

For example, we have spent considerable time working with some of our growers to provide an outlet for some of the potential waste product that may otherwise be destined for landfill. And the products we’re talking about here are simply class II (or catering class) vegetables or salad items such as mushrooms and peppers, which have identical flavour and texture to a class I product, yet are simply misshaped in some way. This produce is perfect for caterers to use when product appearance is not important, such as in soups or stews. It provides our growers with an extra revenue stream and at the same time offers our customers a cost saving, with no affect on the quality of their offering. It also reduces the amount of fresh produce destined for landfill so is great in environmental terms.

 

Our audits are not simple validating accreditations; they really are about getting muddy boots, going through every stage of the process of production including understanding our grower’s financial position. Accreditation is a good start, but it is just that, a good start. BRC, Global Gap and Assured produce are really just the minimum we require. Meeting, or exceeding, the requirements of Ian and his team is the real goal.

 

Clearly, a new supplier to Reynolds is not necessarily going to meet all of our requirements on day one and this is where supplier development comes in. Following our validation process, our technical team is then on hand to help, assist and challenge suppliers to get to where they need to be. We offer support every step of the way to help ensure consistency and quality of supply for our customers.

 

Menu solutions

Having in-depth knowledge of seasonality and produce quality is critical in creating the best possible menu solutions. At Reynolds, we’re lucky enough to have a chef director, Ian Nottage, who works closely with technical and procurement teams to develop menus based around seasonality, quality, availability and, most importantly, the eating experience.

 

There is a real trend now within foodservice towards seasonality and provenance and our team aims to provide chefs and buyers with information and menu solutions focused around these key areas.

We achieve this in a number of ways, which includes taking chefs out to meet the farmers, as well as hosting menu workshops at our development kitchen in Waltham Cross. Here we can highlight what’s best in season as well as suggest innovative and appropriate ways to use the produce.

 

Reynolds also produces fortnightly newsletters which we email out to customers; keeping them up to date with what’s happening in the fresh produce world. And let’s not forget that seasonal produce doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact one of the best things about fruit and vegetables in season is that they are normally very cost effective.

 

We are very fortunate at Reynolds as we not only have development chefs with very sound industry knowledge and good craft skills; we also have extremely experienced greengrocers. This is vital to us because a chef can’t be expected to be an expert butcher, baker, fishmonger and greengrocer. We aim to be the chefs’ expert greengrocer and relate that experience in menu and product development. This also helps to ensure that we can build the link between the grower and the chef. As we always say, the grower is every bit as passionate about his craftasthechef-hehastobe because his livelihood depends on it.

 

In short, our sustainability offer is the partnership formed when procurement, suppliers, customer, product development and marketing get together. Working as a team enables us to take sustainability seriously, deliver upon it and also ensure that we have food safety, food security and a supply base that will be with us for years to come.

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