Wanna get our awesome news?

Subscribe to our newsletter!


Actually we won’t spam you and keep your personal data secure

As the voice of the Indian restaurant industry, we represent the interests of 500000+ restaurants & an industry valued @ USD 4 billion. Whether a chain or independent restaurant, the NRAI is here to help every step of the way. Join us!


Criminal waste


For a country as hungry as ours — 200 million of us go to bed hungry every night — we waste a lot of food. Annually, we throw away 67 million tonnes of food, enough to feed Bihar for a whole year. “We know that at home and at feasts and social gatherings, we tend to serve ourselves more food than we need,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Mann ki Baat broadcast in March. None could agree more with him.

But when his inspired colleague Ram Vilas Paswan, Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, suggested that restaurants and hotels should fix portions while serving to limit waste, it struck a raw nerve. Can fixing portions prevent wastage? Or, was the Government trying to dictate personal choices?

In order to understand how excess, or leftover food is managed at restaurants, corporate kitchens and temples, BusinessLine talked to scores of people in the industry. The private sector seems to have woken up to the benefits (like better margins) of saving food. Interestingly, a few do tweak portions to save food.

More about logistics
At Hyundai India’s manufacturing facility in Chennai, 30,000 meals are served daily across its four canteens. The volume of food to be prepared is calculated on the basis of average attendance and fine-tuned according to the swipe-in details. Still, the canteens are left with a surplus of around 200 meals per day for breakfast and lunch. To prevent this from going waste, the car-maker has a multi-pronged strategy.

While excess food is sent to Little Drops, an old-age home nearby, food from the canteen bins is processed in a decomposer and the manure generated is used for campus landscaping.

The multinational has also introduced a concept of ‘Diet Meals,’ which comprise millets, fruits and vegetables. Portions are decided by nutritionists. While most workers stick to the recommended portions, they are free to eat more. Nearly a thousand people at the Chennai plant have opted for it, resulting in zero food wastage.

French food services and facilities management company Sodexo, which works with 800 corporate cafeterias across India, contains food wastage from the production level to the point of service. “We train our chefs and teams on-site to plan the right portion and the right quantity. Over the years, we have developed the know-how to gauge the number of consumers who will come on a given day. The numbers are usually high on Monday and Tuesday, but on Friday many opt to work from home. Based on such insights, we control the quantity to be cooked,” explains Vineeta Tikekar, Marketing Director – Corporate Services – Asia Pacific at Sodexo On-site Services.

Sodexo also puts up signboards in every cafeteria on the quantity of food wasted the previous day. “At every site, we operate and record the number, which is shared with the global team. Over time, we have seen a difference in people’s behaviour after we share the numbers,” she adds.

The company also works with the Indian FoodBanking Network, which engages with government, private sector and NGOs to address the issue of food wastage and hunger. The uncooked food or what remains unsold on the shelves of Sodexo’s clients are shared with the Network, which distributes it to the underprivileged.

Companies have been innovating ways to use the leftovers from the plates too. “We work with clients who have bio-gas plants. Some large companies have put up plants to convert waste into energy as well as manure,” Sodexo’s Tikekar says without divulging names.

Mainak Chakraborty, CEO of Green Power Systems, caters to this need. His clients include Taj Hotels, Infosys, ITC and Akshaya Patra. “Our biogas solution is fine-tuned for clients that have large kitchens. It is installed within the client’s premises, is remotely monitored and does not require any civil works. The entire food waste, including bones and leftover food or precooked food gets processed in the plant and the gas is used in the kitchen itself,” he says.

The companies have the advantage of saving on LPG spends by using biogas. The technology costs between ₹10-₹60 lakh. The cost can be recovered in less than three years, he says.

Farm to fork
The problem of food wastage is not limited to the end users. According to the FAO, every year around 1.7 billion tonnes, or almost one-third of food produced for human consumption, are lost or wasted globally. This includes wastage that begins at the farm level itself due to inadequate storage and transportation facilities. Food wastage is a whole chain in itself – from farm to fork.

It is here that grocery chains and retailers are putting in efforts to cut the rot. Raincan, a Pune-based grocery delivery start-up works on the subscription model to ensure it orders from vendors just what is needed by the customers. “We follow the just-in-time model. Customer orders are placed in advance. So we procure accordingly from local farmers and milk companies, minimising wastage,” says Munendra Singh, co-founder of Raincan.

A similar model is followed by most online grocers, who keep limited inventory. At the end of the day, the unsold fresh groceries are sold to tea stall owners and hotels in most cases. But the challenge is bigger for retailers like SRS Retail, which sells fresh and dry produce besides packaged food through multiple stores.

“We ensure that perishable products are sold at a discounted prices to speed up sales. We also emphasise on right packaging, temperature and storage techniques. Our current vegetable clearance is 95 per cent and the staff of each outlet is given incentives to sell all the vegetables every single day,” said SRS Retail Managing Director Pratik Jindal. For the packaged products nearing ‘best before’ date, SRS offers discounts to clear them. “This helps in reducing wastage,” he said.

The food Robin Hoods
NGOs and start-ups play an important role. In 44 cities of the country, nearly 4,500 volunteers of Feeding India work overtime to drive out hunger from the country. They collect extra food from restaurants, corporate cafeteria, caterers and wedding halls to distribute it among the orphaned, old age homes and the disabled. In a month, they serve 8 lakh meals to the poor.

Robin Hood Army is another player. “Generating awareness about food wastage is extremely important. We have a hyper local model wherein our volunteers collect extra food from nearby restaurants and distribute it to people living under flyovers, at shelter homes and among abandoned kids,” says Aarushi Batra, co-founder of Robin Hood Army, which started in India in August 2014, and is now operating in 12 countries.

Over 8,000 volunteers who work for Robin Hood Army are mostly students and working professionals. With hyper local the buzzword, those staying in say Greater Kailash area of New Delhi will collect food from restaurants there and distribute to the needy in the same locality. This saves time as well as costs. Feeding India, founded by Ankit Kawatra, deploys two models. Apart from Hunger Heroes, as its volunteers are called, Feeding India also has its own band of employees and network of vans for collecting and distributing food. “Our vans pick up food from corporate canteens and we serve 500 meals each during lunch and dinner every day,” says 25-year-old Kawatra, selected by United Nations as one of 17 Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals.

The portion dilemma
There is little doubt that companies want to limit food wastage. For those in the hospitality and F&B industry, food is one of the biggest costs, sometimes as much as 35 per cent of the total expenditure.

“A lot of effort and planning goes into managing these costs through inventory management, putting in place mechanisms that ensure food items are stored in the right conditions,” says Raj Rana, Chief Executive Officer- South Asia, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, which runs hotels under brands such as Radisson Blu and Park Plaza. “In fact there are food controllers in each of our kitchens, whose job is to monitor food wastage and understand the reasons for wastage of food items. We use these insights to tweak our menus,” he added.

But the sticky issue is that of fixing portions. Following cries of protest, Paswan has been quick to clarify his comment. “We are not making it legally binding. But, we are requesting the restaurants to disclose the portions – number of people it can serve. An argument we hear is that customers get extra food packed. But, what if the customer doesn’t get it packed ,” he told BusinessLine. “Look at Pizza deliveries,” Paswan said adding that most give portions — small, regular, medium, large — in the menu and the customer orders accordingly.

Pizza companies are not alone. Nearly 80 per cent of the dishes on TGI Friday’s menu give information to consumers about the portion size such as, “serves 2-4.” Says Rohan Jetley, CEO, TGI Fridays India: “Consumers expect to see consistent experience around the world when it comes to global brands. Only about 20 per cent of the dishes on our menu do not indicate portion size, but that’s because those are standard dishes like burgers.”

But others opine that it’s not easy. “Each individual has different dietary requirements depending on age, weight and eating habits. To make restaurants fix food portions is an impractical solution. We cannot tell guests to eat less or more. And those who are habitual food wasters will still end up ordering more than they can eat,” says a restaurateur who runs multiple outlets from a central kitchen in Mumbai. He refused to be identified.

Adds Riyaaz Amlani, President of National Restaurant Association of India: “Restaurants decide on the portion size and price on their menu based on knowledge of the cuisine being served, consumer behaviour, demographics and customer feedback. These are regularly revised based on the above and many other factors.” It’s not possible to “pre-decide portions,” he says.

Hearteningly, government institutions are looking to make a difference. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is finalising food labelling norms that will allow hotels and restaurants to voluntarily indicate calorie counts and nutritional information on their menus. Pawan Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI, said, “We have already had two rounds of discussions with the stakeholders on this issue. We believe such information will allow consumers to make more informed choices.”

Source: The Hindu Business Line

Recommended for you