Speaking at a debate hosted by Restaurant magazine at the Restaurant Show earlier today, panel members stressed the importance of sustainability in ethical sourcing practices.
“It’s all about survival,” said Mark Poynton from Restaurant Alimentum in Cambridge. “You won’t turn from a completely unethical to a completely ethical restaurant overnight. It’s about sustainability: do as much as you can to help your business, but don’t do so much that you can’t sustain it.”
Other panel members in the debate hosted by Restaurant editor William Drew included: chef and TV presenter, Paul Merrett; co-owner of Dingley Dell Pork, Mark Hayward; and food advisor from the British Hospitality Association, John Dyson.
Key points to ethical sourcing
The panel said there are some basic steps that restaurants can take if they want to source ethically and sustainably:
· Visit suppliers where possible to check they are doing what they say they’re doing. Check their production is safe, hygienic and sustainable. Will they be able to continue supplying you with the same quality and quantity of product several months down the line?
· If you can’t visit the supplier, then make sure you ask them key questions. If possible, also visit another restaurant that sources from that supplier, and taste the products.
· Look around for information, and check websites, for example the Sustainable Restaurant Association
· Look at campaigns such as Freedom Food and Just Ask
· Word of mouth – find out what others are doing and where they are sourcing from.
Price is important
However, the panel also cautioned that price remains key for customers.
“Ethical sourcing, sustainability, and seasonality are becoming more and more ‘in vogue’,” said Dyson. “But with rising food prices, people will continue to buy in price. Very often, they will have one idea before they go into a supermarket, but when they come out they will have bought things in price.”
Merrett agreed that the same behaviour occurs in restaurants.
“People may want us to make chickens that have had a daily cuddle from the farmer’s wife, but they don’t want to pay for it,” he said. “But over a period, ethical sourcing is quite a healthy thing, it makes people come back”.
How to communicate
Another key aspect of ethical sourcing is how to communicate this to customers.
According to Dyson, “there’s a serious danger of information overload. Often, people just want to go out to rest, relax and enjoy a meal without too much more. Those who are interested in knowing more will ask, and you can tell them. But don’t plaster it all over the menu because then the menu can end up looking like a book”.
Merrett agreed that “it can sound a little pious and pompous. You mustn’t bask in the glory of doing something good. You should have the information there if people want it, but you shouldn’t force it down their throats”.
“We put some basic information in the menu, and that’s enough,” said Poynton. “If people want to know more, they’ll ask, and we’ll have the answers.”
Overall, the panel members agreed that ethical sourcing is as much a business opportunity as it is an opportunity “to do something good”.
“It’s a marketing opportunity,” said Dyson.
“One of the biggest advantages is that customers get consistent high quality products,” said Hayward.
“The great thing is that we have loyal customers. One of the reasons I think they’re coming back is because of the trust between us,” said Merrett.