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< Back to news 09 January, 2009

Hospitality industry weighs the cost of sustainability

Members of beacon, the UK hospitality industry`s largest purchasing consortium, responded to a comprehensive questionnaire seeking views on such areas as local produce, free range

Members of beacon, the UK hospitality industry`s largest purchasing consortium, responded to a comprehensive questionnaire seeking views on such areas as local produce, free range and organic foods, green issues and the health of a nation.

Some of the findings mirror the concerns of the buying public in economically uncertain times. Recent press reports have highlighted a reduction in consumer spending on organic food, Nearly half of beacon survey respondents claimed they experienced no consumer demand for organic or free-range produce, although 50% said they consistently use free-range or organic ingredients in their recipes. Cost is a huge driver, with 92% stating that they would use these ingredients if they were cheaper.

A significant percentage of consumers are focusing on local produce, with over 50% of customers now requesting it, although there is scepticism regarding supplier claims about local products. Moreover, there is discrepancy about what the term `local` means. Nearly three quarters of businesses believe that local means within a 20-mile radius, whereas other groups habour different definitions - many suppliers would refer to regional or even national products as local.

Chris Durant, Director of beacon, said, "This raises a challenge for suppliers: how to meet a practical demand for local products at competitive prices, and within a framework of what `local` means. The reality is that businesses are not going to get everything they need from within a 20-mile radius or at a price they want to pay. However, our suppliers have taken leaps forward in this area over the past couple of years and i believe we are moving towards a greater consensus on what the standard and definition of `local` should be."

With regards to environmental issues, an amazing 99% of companies have introduced one or more energy saving or recycling initiatives, with 44% of respondents now using low-energy light bulbs. However, only a little less than a third of businesses are currently recycling, with lack of outside storage facilities and/or the lack of local recycling services cited as their biggest challenges.

Alternative energy still has a long way to go. Less than 2% of respondents currently use alternative energy sources such as bio-mass boilers, geothermal energy, wind and solar power.

Businesses were also asked to comment on the `health of the nation`. Four in five of respondents believe they do not have a responsibility to offer customers a healthy option, and 64% have adopted the principles of healthy eating in their menu planning including lower fat/sugar/salt, more vegetarian options and using only `healthy` fats and low sodium. More than half (60%) of businesses now believe their customers are more concerned with healthier food, with 48% citing fat content as their customers` biggest concern.

However, businesses gave an emphatic (88%) thumbs down to the imposition of a government `traffic light` coding system on menus. A major concern was the impracticality of its introduction, alongside the desire to avoid `nannying` customers and overcomplicating the look of menus.