No Man — Or Restaurant — Is An Island. Hence The New F&B Sustainability Council

The Loco Group spearheads an alliance between food and beverage industry players to tackle sustainability issues collectively.

No Man — Or Restaurant — Is An Island. Hence The New F&B Sustainability Council
Over at Caffe Cicheti, a dedicated vegetarian menu comprising over 15 plant-based dishes ensure that diners who wish to reduce the impact eating meat has on the environment are not spoilt for choice, with plans to roll this out to other Cicheti’s in the year ahead. Pictured here is the Pesto spaghetti.The Cicheti Group

Since embarking on their sustainability efforts in 2018, The Loco Group, which has popular Mexican restaurant brands Lucha Loco and Super Loco under its portfolio, has been finding ways to make their operations less environmentally taxing. These include menu optimisation, supply chain adjustments, and waste and energy reductions where viable. Last year the group managed to achieve carbon neutrality by offsetting 100 percent of its carbon emissions through the purchase of verifiable carbon credits from a forest conservation project.

But as group general manager Will Leonard opines, “In the grand scheme of things, offsetting our direct emissions is only the tip of the iceberg, and there’s a lot more left to be done.” As a response to the challenges encountered in its sustainability journey as a small F&B business, and in the spirit of sharing with and learning from industry peers, The Loco Group has brought together 10 other businesses to form the F&B Sustainability Council. Fellow founding members comprise established hospitality and lifestyle companies The Lo & Behold Group, Spa Esprit Group and Grand Hyatt Singapore; restaurant and bar operators The Cicheti Group, Grain Traders, and 13% Gastro Wine; gourmet retailer The Providore; premium beverage distributors Proof & Company; craft brewery Trouble Brewing; and The Better Food Distribution Co.  

Through quarterly roundtables, members will set and strive towards their own sustainability targets, while supporting one another by pooling resources, sharing best practices, brainstorming challenges and lobbying support through its collective impact. The first roundtable was held at Grand Hyatt Singapore on 31 January 2020.

Leonard notes that one of the most challenging sustainability issue restaurants in Singapore face is the problem of waste, whether it be food left on plates, empty glass bottles, or packaging and boxes that products come in.

“Our group produces around 600kg a week in post-consumer food waste. We’ve implemented several measures to bring down that number,” Leonard shares. “Food composting is high on our list. But currently local farms are refusing any more food waste for composting as they’re at full capacity, and it is prohibitively expensive and logistically challenging for a single-site restaurant to compost left-over food from plates on our own. While the government is championing Singapore to be a Zero Waste Nation, there’s little support that businesses our sizes end up being eligible for, but we hope that if a critical mass of other restaurants are interested, it will compel action.”

One area that the group has managed cut down dramatically is their glass bottle waste. Leonard says, “We’ve phased out bottled mineral water and transitioned to filtered water on-site. We also switched to ecoSPIRITS for our house pour spirits, which now comes in reusable 4.5L demijohns. We’ve managed to eliminate around 40 tonnes of glass waste in a year just by doing this.”

Launched in 2019 in Singapore by Proof & Company, ecoSPIRITS is an innovative closed-loop distribution technology that nearly eliminates packaging waste in the spirits supply chain. Paul Gabie, CEO of ecoSPIRITS and Proof & Company Spirits, explains, “Single-use glass bottles are a startling environmental cost of the hospitality industry as the vast majority of these will be used once, not recycled, and immediately find their way into local landfills. By dramatically reducing packaging and transport costs, ecoSPIRITS helps bars, restaurants and hotels eliminate up to 95% of their daily glass and cardboard waste and reduce the carbon footprint of their spirits consumption by as much as 80%.

In a system plagued by high wastage, high carbon emissions, and lack of recycling and responsible use, current practices of production and consumption of food and beverages are undeniably inefficient and unsustainable. But to effect positive and constructive change throughout the F&B industry, it is essential that industry players involved at different levels — from food producers to retailers to restaurateurs and to consumers — come together to take on sustainability as a collective responsibility. Hence the diverse make-up of the F&B Sustainability Council.

Grand Hyatt Singapore has been implementing sustainability measures in their operations for over a decade. From phasing out 550,000 single-use plastic bottles at their event spaces each year by switching to a biodegradable, plant-based alternative to being the first hotel in Singapore to install an in-house food waste management plant that produces organic pathogen-free fertilisers that is used in the upkeep of its own rooftop garden, Grand Hyatt Singapore’s initiatives aims to integrate sustainability into every aspect of the hotel operations.

Despite initial challenges in educating associates and aligning stakeholders purposes and hotel’s strategic priorities with the sustainability principles and goals, Director of Food & Beverage Sebastian Kern says, “Once they comprehended our vision on caring for the environment, their dedication and motivation grew exponentially. Changing the way we operate showcased immense improvement across the board. When short and long term returns proved exceptional, it provided the validation that a sustainable business model was the way to move forward.” Having been successful in their sustainability goals, Kern believes that “sharing knowledge and best practises goes a long way” and is hopeful of what the F&B Sustainability Council can collectively achieve.

Sustainability in the food industry is not something that any one restaurant or chef can solve. That is why the F&B Sustainability Council was formed, to allow food industry insiders to share their knowledge and broaden the scope of what is possible for the industry.
(Image: Open Farm Community/Spa Esprit Group)

While most of the council members are currently restaurants and establishments from the operations side of F&B, Leonard hopes to get more engagement with companies from the production side “in the future, once we can be clear about how these companies in the supply chain can work with us to make sustainable process improvements”. He adds, “We welcome all F&B businesses who believe in our cause and believe that they have something suitable for our issues at hand to email [email protected]. We dedicate a portion of each roundtable to inviting subject-matter experts as guest speakers to shed light on sustainability trends, inspiring case studies and best practices.”

One of the biggest challenges for gourmet retailer The Providore is that making sustainable and ethically responsible choices comes at a financial cost. Managing Director Bruce Alexander Chapman explains, “Whilst this is minimal compared to the environmental impact of not making these choices, as a business this is something that we have to consider. We often make the choice to absorb these costs, without passing any increase onto our customers. As a business we believe that success is increasingly measured by more than just profitability, we also have to think about our environmental footprint and the example that we set in the industry.”

Which is why for Chapman and many others in the council, the most pressing issue at hand is changing mindsets and building awareness. Liling Ong, Director of The Cicheti Group, admits that many in F&B operations “have been conditioned to work in a manner that prioritises efficiency” and compromises sustainability. It would take constant knowledge sharing and education to achieve a common mindset and work culture that is environmentally conscious.

Sweet Malaysian clams are used instead of sourcing from afar in Bar Cicheti’s take on the Vongole, for its natural sweetness and low carbon footprint.
(Image: The Cicheti Group)

And it is through these enlightened staff that environmental consciousness is passed on to customers. Chapman believes that “helping our frontline staff to manage initial customer responses ensures that the positive messages about what we’re doing at The Providore are consistently communicated”. He adds, “As a retailer, we need to first make the right choices so that sustainability is prioritised. It’s then on us to showcase these choices to our customer and highlight the benefits to them as consumers. We provide the options so they can make better choices.”

Gable concurs, “ Sustainability is no longer just a “nice to have” — guests are demanding it. Working together, especially through initiatives like the F&B Sustainability Council, we can share best practices and learnings and accelerate the journey to a sustainable future of F&B.”

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