As of today (23 May), six Honest Burgers restaurants in the capital including those in Brixton, Peckham and Clapham will serve beef from regenerative farms, with the remainder of the group’s nationwide estate set to be switched in turn.
Honest Burger operates more than 40 restaurants in total and aims to complete the transition across the business by the beginning of 2024.
“We’ve always wanted to address our sustainability as a business, as all businesses are wanting to do,” says Honest Burger co-founder Tom Barton, who has spearheaded the move.
“Some are doing it to get a short-term headline and greenwashing is totally present, but we wanted to address our sustainability and do it authentically and meaningfully.
“There’s been a few challenges to be sure, but we’re committed to this.”
Creating a new supply chain
Regenerative agriculture relates to an increasingly prominent conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems that gives back to the environment more than it takes out. In practice it means reducing the need for machinery and artificial fertilisers; improving biodiversity; and allowing cows to roam, with their hooves gently disturbing the soil without intensive ploughing - a process known as mob grazing – and storing carbon into the earth.
Under its new regenerative farming programme, Honest Burgers now works directly with British regenerative farmers as opposed to the industry standard of working with major abattoirs and meat processors.
“As a restaurant group, our biggest input is always going to be what we buy, which is always going to be food,” explains Barton.
“I thought the system we had at Honest was really tidy, but it wasn’t. Beef is always going to be our biggest output, and we just weren’t as good as we thought we were. There’s a lot of food marketing out there, and sadly it doesn’t have much substance.
“We had fallen into that trap. ‘Grass fed’ doesn’t mean as much as we thought; ‘native breed’ doesn’t mean as much as we thought. Sourcing from the UK is good, but the bottom line is if you want to affect change you need to start working directly with farmers. That’s the only way I see it.
“You’ve got to cut out all these middlemen that all have a mouth to feed, and you’ve got to work direct. And if you do that you can motivate and incentivise things that are important to you as a business.”
To ensure a completely transparent and accountable supply chain, Honest Burgers now buys the whole cow directly from farmers, allowing it to influence and monitor regenerative processes at the farms and reduce its carbon footprint.
Around 70% of the cow is used to make Honest's burger patties at its butchery, and the cuts reserved for premium steaks - which constitute approximately 20% of the cow - are then sold to partners including Turner and George and The Ethical Butcher.
“If you want to be a beef business and to look at yourself in the mirror with a straight face every day, you’ve got to be supporting things like this.”
Living up to the Honest name
Barton has worked with British farming collective Grassroots Farming, which promotes regenerative farming practices in the industry to source farmers directly and develop the new supply chain. At present, Honest has four farmers on stream, and by the time all its restaurants are serving regeneratively farmed meat the group expects to be working with about 20 in total.
The process has required a substantial financial investment from Honest and has taken three years to bring to market. However, Barton says there are no plans to mitigate the financial impact of the venture by raising prices.
“This isn’t just a cost, there’s a benefit to this. We think customers are going to want to come and eat with us who wouldn’t have done so before; ones who have never thought about eating at a burger brand before because there’s no traceability or understanding of where the meat comes from.
“We’re trying to say we want to live up to our name, which is no mean feat. There’s a lot of things we all need to do better and giving customers more information about their food is absolutely paramount.”