Footprint Blog

Organic food is no better for you says FSA report

Posted in Comment,Diet,Economics,Provenance by foodservicefootprint on July 29, 2009

organic hands

So organic food is no better for us than ‘ordinary food’. ‘Ordinary food’? To anybody over 60, organic food is ordinary food – it’s the homogenised fare offered by the supermarkets today that is different; it’s just become the norm.

But what of organic and the so called ‘organic movement’?  Does research such as this FSA commissioned document represent an early death knell? Possibly. ‘Organic’ has moved from a production method to an accreditation. When once it represented an ethos championing the production of food stuff to traditional methods, without the use of chemicals to stimulate, enhance or protect, today the word organic has become a retail category assuring the customer of a product’s production provenance. 

The organic movement has successfully drawn our attention to the fact that a lot of the food we eat today is produced in an arguably unnatural way and has made us want to know more about the provenance of our diet. This is excellent. But there is another side to this argument. To call your farm and your product organic, you have to be accredited by one of a number of organisations, the Soil Association being the most high profile. To achieve this accreditation means you have to undertake an audit and this audit costs money. Quite a lot of money. Rather more money than increasing numbers of cash strapped farmers will bear, and herein lies the story. 

Due to the demand for ‘high provenance’, naturally produced product, there are increasing numbers of farmers producing what is known as ‘uncertified organic’ ie that which is produced to organic methods without the expense of the accreditor’s fee, and finding ready markets throughout the country, not least in the burgeoning numbers of farm shops and farmers markets. 

Assuming that demand for this sort of product increases, might it be suggested that more and more farmers will begin to question the necessity of jumping through each year’s new set of accreditation goalposts, when they know they have a market for their products with or without an accreditation? And furthermore, does the paying public want organic or just comfort in the knowledge that they know where their food comes from?


Pritchitts could prove an environmental standard bearer to foodservice

Posted in Comment,Foodservice Footprint news,News,Sustainability by foodservicefootprint on July 26, 2009
From left to right: Alastair Pollock, Retail Operations Director, Phoenix Natural Gas

Based on what Pritchitts has achieved, we do feel that many of the company’s achievements are worth reporting.

Pritchitts’ dedication to working on initiatives to help the environment has continued and it has been recognised at the Business in the Community Awards, an award celebrating those businesses that have shown innovation, creativity and a sustained commitment to corporate responsibility. 

Pritchitts, the dairy experts, won an award for “Environmental Improvement” at the Gala Dinner in Belfast, given to an organisation that demonstrates significant improvement in the management of waste and energy.

Colin Shiels, Environmental Officer for Pritchitts said, “Our environmental policies are high on our agenda and winning this award highlights the tremendous efforts made to improve energy and environmental management within the business.  This will encourage everyone to continue working to improve our environmental profile and offer real benefits for the environment.”

What has Pritchitts tangibly achieved?

  • A reduction in Carbon Dioxide output by 70%
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are virtually non-existent
  • Reduction in noise levels of 17%
  • 60 tonnes of cardboard recycled every year
  • Water usage on site reduced by 1,500 cubic meters per week

Following accreditation for its Environmental Management System under ISO 14001, Pritchitts has been working with the Carbon Trust and Envirowise to further develop ways of reducing energy use and the burden on natural resources.  It achieved Platinum status through Business in the Community’s Environmental Benchmarking Survey in 2008 and large scale investments have been made over the past nine years.  Key achievements include, converting the factory’s steam raising boilers from heavy fuel oil to natural gas, installing a combined heat and power plant, using recovered heat in the work process and producing electricity from natural gas burning, recycling waste fats, infallible chemical security, purchase of compactors, employee and contractor environmental awareness training and a water conservation programme.

Colin added, “It was terrific to receive this Award in recognition of our work to date and it serves as a platform to build upon as we have a host of new initiatives and future activity that will further confirm our commitment to the Environment.”

Babydoll makes an impact on the sustainability of wine production

Duncan Graham-Rowe’s article in The Guardian addresses what one particular winemaker in New Zealand has done to reduce his carbon emissions.

Firstly, just to put a winemakers carbon footprint into perspective, let the me outline the scale of the impact: Peter Yealand, a New Zealand winemaker owns a 1000 hectare vineyard. In order to keep the grass short between the vines, which is a necessity to prevent the grass from using precious nutrients and water and to hinder the spread of disease and fungus, Yealand would have to drive his tractor 3,500km 12 times a year to keep the grass short according to The Guardian. As a result diesel amounts to 60% of his energy costs.

The Guardian article outlines a number of experiments:  ‘To avoid using a tractor, last year he experimented by letting loose giant guinea pigs. That worked initially, he said. “But once the hawks had a taste for them they were sitting prey. We were losing them by the hour. Besides, we would have needed 11 million of them to make it work.”

But there is an alternative, ‘Now Yealands has turned his attention to babydolls, a rare breed of sheep which only reach about 60cm tall when fully grown. Because the grapes tend only to start growing from about 110cm off the ground the sheep can’t reach them. Yealands has tested 10 of the sheep on a 125-hectare patch of vines.’

‘By selectively breeding them with another more common sheep, the Merino Saxon, which is favoured for its meat, Yealands now hopes to get his stock up to the 10,000 he needs within the next five years. If successful, the flock should save him NZ$1.5m (£600,000) a year in diesel alone, and he hopes to sell the sheep for meat too.’

The Forager: Extraordinarily Brilliant!

In this weeks Eco Hero column, Miles Irving talks about how he grew up foraging for wild food, encouraged by his grandfather. Irving has turned his hobby into a business selling his ‘forage’ to leading restaurants.

Miles said ‘I tried setting up a foraging company a while ago when I had lots of chanterelles to get rid of, but no restaurants were interested. Then about three years later we happened to mention our wild food escapades in a restaurant in Canterbury and got pounced on by the chef’.  He really saw the potential. We now sell to J Sheekey, The Ivy, Scott’s, St John Bread and Wine and Le Caprice, amongst others.

Come on Chef’s, this is so exciting, why not try bittercress, chickweed, a lady’s smock and beefsteak fungus….

I think this is the most exciting thing since Olive Oil became something to cook with, rather than just a remedy for ear-ache! 

Please check out

Ever heard of El-Nino (ENSO)? Foodservice needs to!

Posted in 1,Comment,Economics,Food Miles,Foodservice Footprint news,International,Logistics,News,Produce by foodservicefootprint on July 19, 2009


According to The Daily Telegraph business section, farmers across the southern hemisphere are preparing for El Nino Southern Oscillation, often shortened to ENSO. It involves a warming in the Pacific that sets off a chain of events that cause droughts in Australia and floods in South America. And it is likely that crops will fail.

Businesses all over the world, particularly those involved with food have to keep a very close eye on ENSO as it has the very realistic potential to substantially alter cost drivers. According to The Daily Telegraph, ‘Supply chains can be disrupted, input costs can soar and logistics for global operations become a nightmare’.

Rather than thinking that this is entirely man-made, it is not! Over the past two weeks meteorologists worldwide have been predicting just that.  A weather event that occurs once every three to seven years is under way and weather patterns across the southern hemisphere could be sent into turmoil over the next six months.

The last severe ENSO occured in 1997-1998. ‘In the late 1990’s drought conditions caused the failure of Australian wheat crops and sparked massive forest fires in Indonesia, which is responsible for about 30% of global vegetable oil production. The price of palm oil rocketed almost 300% and Africa also withered under prolonged drought…In California, the cost of fruit and vegetables jumped in 1997 – the price of strawberries doubled – as higher than normal moisture levels in the air and the ground caused crops to be attacked by fungi and other pests’.  Brazilian coffee jumped by 102% in the six months during the 1997 El Nino and the overall estimated impact of El Nino was estimated to be in the order of 25bn.

In all the debate about local sourcing one maybe forgets about the sensitivity of ecological equilibrium and the impact that a global agricultural imbalance can have on the British Foodservice and Retail industry. Most importantly it puts climate issues and global warming into perspective and perhaps offers a very real snippet of what we are dealing with!

The carbon offset delusion of Permits to Pollute

In the latest budget Darling committed to Britain not resorting to carbon offsets to meet its emission reduction targets before 2012. Equally ‘Milliband minor’, as I like to call him, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, last week set out plans for UK emission cuts of 34% by 2022 and at least 80% by 2050, to reduce the threat posed by global warming, according to The Times on Wednesday.

However, ‘Britain may go back on its promise not to buy “permits to pollute” from poor nations’ (carbon offset’s are when one country is financially rewarded to make reductions on behalf of another).

The Times professes to have seen a document outlining that Britain’s plan to cut its carbon dioxide emissions, by more than a third by 2022, could be achieved by buying ‘permits to pollute’ from poor countries rather than genuine reductions in domestic emissions.

The Times claimed on Wednesday ‘A draft copy of the government’s energy strategy, due to be published today, reveals that ministers have considered scrapping a commitment made three months ago intended to prevent the UK from buying so-called offset’s from developing nations. It states that genuine cuts would be preferable, carbon off-sets….should be reserved as an insurance option’.

The article further says that Keith Allot, head of climate change at WWF said that ‘carbon offsetting amounted to little more than an accounting trick…We have a chance to transform the UK economy but that can only be achieved by investing in a green recovery package. If we choose offset’s we are just throwing money into a broken mechanism’.

There are some further facts here; ‘the government is committed by law to a phased reduction in carbon emissions over three five-year periods starting in 2008. From 2013 emissions should be further reduced to 28%, below 1990 levels and a third period, from 2018 should see emissions cut to 34% below 1990 levels’. The government however could get a great deal of the legwork done by investing in wind farms in developing countries like India or could pay a country such as Brazil to, buy ‘avoided deforestation credits’.

Doesn’t this rather remind you of the complicated financial models such as banks selling sub-prime debt to each other? Presumably the Carbon Markets and Investors Association (CMIA) meant exactly this when it commented: ‘Carbon offsets are a sensible and economically rational approach for the UK Government. It is critical to have mechanisms that will allow for financial innovation in the environmental space.’

We have seen enough of financial innovation for a while. We all know how this ended. Furthermore, we are not sure that there is any space for banker’s ‘mechanisims’ in environmental issues!

The bottom line is, we have got to reduce carbon emissions, so let’s get on with it! The British government has got to realise that it has to set an example to industry rather than figure manipulation.

Just to put this into the context of foodservice, it is rather like the big multiple hotel, restaurant and catering groups buying carbon offsets from independent operators rather than trying to cut emissions, so that they continue polluting and draining resources at the benefit of their balance sheet, as if climate change and exploiting natural resources wasn’t a very real problem.

There is something very wrong in this and quite frankly, it’s disturbing!

The Marine Stewardship Council receives Royal approval

Posted in 1,Comment,International,Provenance,Sustainability,Sustainable Sourcing by foodservicefootprint on July 18, 2009

The Prince of Wales hosted a reception for the Marine Stewardship Council at Clarence House on Tuesday. The organisation has been promoting sustainable fishing practices across the globe and has been responsible for a great deal of enlightenment in foodservice.

His Royal Highness compared the debate on fish resources with the failure to recognise the threat of climate change. The subject was ‘quite literally out of sight, out of mind’ he said.

Footprint is a great admirer of the MSC and is delighted that the Prince of Wales has managed to bring its work into the public’s consciousness.

Green(ish) Britain Day

Last Friday was Green Britain Day. Did anyone notice?

I read a comment by Tim Smit, the Chief Executive of the Eden Project in The Times last week, in which he argues that the next 30 years will determine whether humans are a successful species or not. He argues that this is not about a Luddite regression or a lifestyle choice but should be a fundamental way of life and furthermore the perfect time for big businesses to get involved, set an example of the achievable and drive the message by means of leadership.

In this vein, Smit advocates EDF as the biggest producer of low carbon energy in the UK and its efforts on sustainable matters. Green Britain Day obviously being one of EDF’s endeavours is about ‘small cultural changes that people are happy to make, but that collectively make a big difference’.

Great, I thought, it means street parties and a candle lit Friday night – a real sense of togetherness in our efforts to create a better world! It means we can all do something that can be tangibly measured and the results will be published by EDF for everyone to comprehend what can be done. At last! However, Green Britain Day, has come and gone and we have heard nothing about its impact.

Geoffrey Lean wrote an opinion piece in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph in which he says ‘…it [Green Britain Day] was actually organised by a nationalised French Company [itself an insult to Mr Lean, one would presume] which boasts of being ‘one of the largest participants in the global coal market’. He further says ‘….EDF proudly reports that it imports around 30 million tons of physical coal a year’ and concludes ‘I don’t know whether there is a French word for ‘greenwash’, but the firm might care to look it up’.

Being undecided as to whether to trust in the wise words of Tim Smit, who is a tireless and immensly well informed campaigner, or recognise the apparent sense in Geoffrey Lane’s words, I decided to speak to EDF myself. My questions were simple: Did Green Britain Day have the desired result of participation and if so how was it measured?

The answers were equally simple, and arguably basic: 5000 fans attended the concert at the Eden project headlined by Paul Weller with messages from the Prince of Wales, Dalai Lama and Princes William and Harry. 450,000 people signed up on the website and a great number of events were hosted regionally. A success one might argue, but what did people actually do? What actions were taken to collectively make a measurable difference to ‘non-believers’? Or was it a PR exercise that was to position the EDF brand carefully into popular culture in the realms of green issues.

As to quantifying results, according to EDF’s press officer, the company is hoping to publish some stats on collective actions and the difference they made during the course of the year. Next year EDF is hoping to be able to encourage more tangible actions and be able to measure them more. As EDF told me ‘Its only the first year’.

Make up your own mind, but I suspect the more this is analysed the more of a PR disaster GBD will unfold to be.

Whilst I don’t believe Green Britain Day to be a ‘greenwash’, I can only conclude that it was launched prematurely without a clear aim. I think the endeavour is great, I just think the manner in which it was launched was unconsidered and benefits could have been maximised far more. Instead of horizontally encouraging the entire population and industry to get involved, would it had not made more sense to tailor the campaign on vertical industries such as foodservice, aviation, manufacture, transport and tailor a seperate campaign to the public, much as Amerada Hess did in the late 90’s? As Tim Smit argues in his article, this is about the buy-in from big business to display what differences can be made by means of collective action and it has to be well thought out and inclusive!

Green Flag! (not the breakdown service – but an accident?)

Posted in Comment,Foodservice Footprint news,International,News by foodservicefootprint on July 14, 2009

Further to Geoffrey Lean’s comment ‘Flying the flag for corporate spin’ in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, he remarks that that EDF’s logo for Green Britain day, a green union flag, is remarkably similar to that used by the ‘genuinely green’ energy company Ecotricity.

This was confirmed to me today by EDF as an ‘unfortunate set of circumastances’. I just hope that this turns out to be inverted good publicity for Ecotricity founder Dale Vince and that it puts the company on the map for foodservice.
For more details please see

Frozen food maybe be cheap but is it green?

Posted in Comment,Economics,Food Trends by foodservicefootprint on July 14, 2009

Frozen food

Footprint has received a press release claiming that ‘New research has confirmed that frozen food could save the foodservice industry millions of pounds a year.’ 

Commissioned by The British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) and conducted by the Manchester Food Research Centre (MFRC), a new ‘Cost Comparison’ study concluded it was more cost effective for foodservice establishments to buy in prepared frozen alternatives, rather than manufacturing identical dishes on site.  

In nearly all cases during the research, dishes made to a duplicate recipe from scratch cost more than 24% more than their frozen counterparts. This rose to 66% with more labour intensive dishes which involved a high skill level. 

Brian Young, director general of the BFFF commented: “We have long known that frozen offers a better value option for the caterer. We now have independent research to statistically support this belief.” Young added: “In this tough economic climate there is a compelling business case for using frozen food. Buying frozen will save money because of competitive and stable food prices, the ability to control portion sizes and wastage, plus the opportunity to cut kitchen labour costs. This will help businesses reduce their overheads, produce more accurate pricing models and protect their profits.” 

The release goes on to state that.. 

Cost sets were based on the running of a small public house or restaurant offering reasonably priced and unpretentious meals manufactured on a daily basis to the general public. 

  1. Raw materials costs: Food costs were based on a combination of both supermarket and wholesale prices. Raw material costs were based on one portion.
  2. Energy costs: Energy costs comprised of cooking time on the hob / in the oven – calculated as electricity or gas per minute. Storage costs were negligible as chilled and frozen ingredients would have little to no storage time to minimise stock carrying levels.
  3. Wastage costs: Wastage costs included raw material wastage, comprising all trimmings and peelings (which were weighed)
  4. Washing and cleaning costs: These comprised of water used in food preparation, washing up and cleaning, plus the cost of detergents and sanitisers.
  5. Staff costs: It was anticipated that a kitchen was manned by a chef and a kitchen assistant. Wage costs were evaluated on current industry wage offerings for the hospitality sector. It was calculated that whilst staff were preparing one portion, they would plate up approximately eleven other portions, therefore staff costs were divided by twelve per dish served.

 No mention of the costs of new hardware, space implications, use of microwaves for defrosting, CFCs or ozone then…..

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