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COMPANY OF GOOD

A taste for sustainability

Food services provider Sodexo aims to halve food waste by 2025.

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Head chef Subash Srikrishnan (left) giving pointers to the Sodexo kitchen team to reduce food waste during preparation, based on data from the WasteWatch programme.

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Account manager Changdev Kumkar (above, second from left) reviewing waste reduction efforts.

Singapore

SODEXO is turning up the heat in its fight against food waste.

The food services and facilities management provider's global chief executive officer, Denis Machuel, has made a new commitment this month to deploy the company's data-driven waste prevention programme, WasteWatch, at more than 3,000 Sodexo sites worldwide within a year - including in Singapore.

The company is also targeting to launch WasteWatch at all relevant Sodexo sites by 2025, in line with its goal to halve food waste and losses from its operations by the same year.

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To bring a sense of urgency, "for the sake of humanity and in light of hunger worldwide", Sodexo will release publicly the figures on how much food is discarded at each food-service site, Mr Machuel says.

"WasteWatch's rapid deployment is our rally cry to do our part, while empowering our clients and the consumers we serve," he adds.

In Singapore, the urge to do better is likewise palpable. The company actively involves its 1,500 Singapore-based employees and other stakeholders in the cause.

Roshith Rajan, Sodexo's director of corporate responsibility for the Asia-Pacific, tells The Business Times: "As long as you're in the food industry, you naturally have a moral obligation to support a robust and sustainable food system."

SHARING EXPERTISE

For one, Sodexo is eager to share its know-how to help regional food suppliers - especially SMEs - improve their processes to be more environmentally friendly, to manufacture fair-trade products, and to obtain sustainability certifications.

For consumers, the firm uses transparent food bins at its sites to let diners see how much food they're discarding, which reminds them to be mindful of their wastage. Sodexo also conducts cooking classes to teach the public how to make nutritious meals with excess ingredients, and publishes a waste-less recipe book.

These recipes incorporate ingredients that are often thrown away despite having nutritional value, such as broccoli stems and watermelon rinds. Pumpkin skin is also used to make fried rice in one of the recipes.

And at its food-service sites in Singapore, the company's main focus is the prevention of food waste. Since WasteWatch was deployed at the first Singapore site in mid-2018, Sodexo has so far rolled out the programme at 10 sites in the city-state, and will continue extending it to more sites as part of its global push, Mr Rajan says.

WasteWatch has cut food waste by 36 per cent on average in Singapore.

Using LeanPath software, it prevents pre- and post-consumer food waste by tracking, measuring and reporting it daily. Sodexo's chefs, supply experts, site managers and frontline teams are then encouraged to get creative in how they plan, use and serve food to cut avoidable waste.

On-site industrial catering forms the bulk of Sodexo's food services business, whereby the company staffs the clients' kitchens and takes care of daily food sourcing, preparation and service on a large scale. It works with some 40 sites in Singapore, which include schools, offices, hospitals, and more.

Industrial catering thus enables Sodexo to track food wastage and consumption patterns for the medium to long term, and with a large dataset.

But tackling waste is not the only way towards sustainability; companies need to figure out what works for their businesses. And with social awareness and ethical consumerism growing, companies need to catch up with their sustainable practices to cater to this audience, Mr Rajan says.

"If you're not there yet, it's high time to start making a positive impact. Don't miss the boat," he says.

About a decade ago, when sustainable palm oil was still relatively unheard of in South-east Asia, Sodexo was already working on becoming a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Mr Rajan says. The company met with resistance when it tried to persuade regional producers to move towards growing oil palm sustainably.

"The suppliers were initially reluctant to explore it, because we were basically the only ones asking for this product back then," Mr Rajan says.

Instead of switching suppliers, Sodexo buckled down and stayed with its existing vendors, showing them how to go about producing sustainable palm oil and getting RSPO-certified. "We wanted to take them on this journey with us, as we believed sustainable palm oil would become a common need over time," he says.

SATISFYING DEMAND

One vendor eventually gained enough knowledge and expertise to grow its plantations sustainably. It then managed to secure deals to satisfy the burgeoning demand from environmentally and ethically conscious customers.

"Meanwhile, the other suppliers lagged behind and lost that business opportunity," Mr Rajan says.

He recommends companies to stay updated on corporate social responsibility developments and measures. A good way to do so is attending events to glean insights on where the government and industry are heading towards. At these industry events, Sodexo also keeps an eye out for local SMEs that it can bring on board as partners and help to showcase their innovations, says Julie Cheong, Sodexo's assistant manager for Singapore supply management.

The latest such events include the Company of Good's Responsible Food dialogue in February earlier this year and WeConnect's Suppliers Diversity Forum in May, both held in Singapore and featuring Sodexo as a speaker.

Says Ms Cheong: "Regardless of company size, food waste and sustainability is a fundamental issue in this industry. It's not a Sodexo problem - it's a global problem."

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