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How UFS chefs are serving up waste-free food solutions

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Average read time: 6 minutes

Cutting business waste is just one of the ingredients in Unilever Food Solutions’ recipe for a waste-free future. We spoke to chefs Alex Hall in the UK, Audrey Crone in Ireland and Mary Worthington in South Africa to find out how they’re helping reduce waste and increase profit margins in the process.

UFS chef Audrey Crone laughing with another chef while cooking in a professional kitchen

No one sets out to bin good food, least of all chefs for whom food waste can result in profit margin losses of up to 15% (Kantar 2021).

And yet in a recent report, the UN stated that of the 931 million tonnes of food waste generated in 2019, 26% came from the foodservice industry. In the UK alone, according to food waste campaigners WRAP, 18% of food purchased by the hospitality sector is binned, and food waste warriors Guardians of Grub suggest that this is costing annual losses of about £3.2 billion.

In 2020 Unilever committed to tackling this issue through its Future Foods initiative, setting itself the goal of halving food waste from factory to shelf by 2025. Two years on, although some progress has been made, there is much more to do in order to meet this target.

Leading the way is Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) – Unilever’s global network of professional chefs that support foodservice businesses with trusted brands and quality solutions.

Well on track to meet their 2025 target, UFS has already achieved significant reductions in business waste, thanks to more effective, dynamic forecasting and clear strategies that ensure ageing stock and close-to-sell-by date goods are rightfully donated to food banks and other organisations (see below).

How UFS is living up to its name

However, it is earlier in the process that Melinda Taylor, Unilever Food Solutions Marketing Director, feels UFS is having the most impact. “We have piloted systems to make the most of food waste once it is in kitchens,” she says. “But nothing has been as effective as training and partnerships in terms of changing behaviour and preventing food waste happening in the first place.”

In a global landscape where 1 in 10 people go hungry and 8–10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the disposal of unused food, the humanitarian and environmental impact of food waste is clear. But while many chefs are motivated to act for the good of people and the planet, recent ingredient and staff shortages, rising energy costs and financial slowdowns in many markets mean that ending food waste is now also a financial imperative few can afford to ignore.

Nothing has been as effective as training and partnerships in terms of changing behaviour and preventing food waste happening in the first place.

Melinda Taylor, UFS Marketing Director

How chef-to-chef training is winning the war on waste

“The financial impact of food loss is the hook for many business owners and chefs who are always under pressure to achieve financial savings or cost savings,” says Mary Worthington, Culinary Experience Adviser, UFS Durban. As one of the around 250 UFS chefs working to reduce food waste, Mary works with professional chefs in diverse settings ranging from restaurants and cafés to hospitals and care homes.

But whatever the setting, the UFS message is always the same: throwing away food is throwing away profit.

“As senior leaders we have a responsibility to start thinking about food waste in a different way,” says Alex Hall, Executive Chef, UFS UKI. “We need a mind shift to what Vojtech Verg, a leading chef in food waste, calls Black Truffle mentality. If every product in the kitchen was treated like a truffle that costs hundreds of pounds per kilo, would we throw it away with such impunity?”

Audrey Crone, Executive Chef, UFS Ireland, agrees, and because she is a professional chef, her advice comes from a place of experience.

“Understanding what challenges the teams are facing and what their needs are is the core to what we do,” says Audrey. “When it comes to food waste and protecting profit margins, we are actually going back to old-fashioned ‘waste not, want not’ systems.”

Mary Worthington, Culinary Experience Adviser, UFS Durban

“The financial impact of food loss is the hook for many business owners and chefs who are always under pressure to achieve financial savings or cost savings.”

Mary Worthington, Culinary Experience Adviser, UFS Durban

Back to basics

From menu planning, kitchen management and seasonal cooking to making the most of leftovers like bread or vegetable peelings, everything works together to make a real difference to the bottom line.

“Turning something that might have been thrown in the bin into something that adds value and reduces cost without compromising on flavour is key,” says Audrey.

Alex agrees, reflecting that in a recent seminar he managed to create a delicious, fermented tea kombucha using coffee grinds: a huge source of waste in many kitchens.

“From foraging to everyday products, it is really important that we look at new and exciting ways we can use produce and reuse waste,” he says.

Mary confirms the strong interest in avoiding waste. “Food waste always comes up as a topic for discussion in my kitchen trainings,” she says. “Simple things like learning knife skills or using a vegetable peeler can really reduce the amount of food being lost at the prep stage.”

Chef Alex Hall in professional kitchen

“If every product in the kitchen was treated like a truffle that costs hundreds of pounds per kilo, would we throw it away with such impunity?”

Alex Hall, Executive Chef, UFS UKI

Products that make a difference

For chefs working with labour constraints or tight budgets,ready-to-go products can also provide a way to cut both costs and waste. “With a made-from-scratch hollandaise, for example, you’ve got a very short shelf life, you cannot reuse it and it’s a big cost to the kitchen in terms of wastage,” explains Mary.

“But our ready-made hollandaise is ready to heat, serve and reheat if necessary. The same goes for our ready-made jus that takes 12 minutes to make compared to two days from scratch. You just make up what you need, which again avoids waste.”

Audrey adds that with energy costs rising, cooking anything for days at a time is a luxury not everyone can enjoy.

Chef Audrey Crone cooking

“When it comes to food waste and protecting profit margins, we are actually going back to old-fashioned ‘waste not, want not’ systems.”

Audrey Crone, Executive Chef, UFS Ireland

Tapping into technology

Although much of what UFS teaches is old-school kitchen sense, modern technology is what is allowing these learnings to be shared globally and at speed. The UFS.com website useful culinary tips and tricks, recipes and ideas, including the Wise Up on Waste programme specially created for the hospitality sector.

“I always tell my chefs you can only control what you can measure and the Wise Up on Waste programme can really help with that. Simple things like learning how to do an audit, for example, can really make a difference,” says Audrey. “Once chefs have up-to-date information, they can create tangible solutions. They can rework the menu, rethink how they use ingredients.”

Taking a step further, the UFS Academy, a free online culinary portal, offers chefs who may not have formal training the opportunity to get accreditation on a wide range of free courses, including a waste management module.*

Available via the UFS Academy app as well as on the UFS Academy website in certain countries, the course has been well received, especially in South Africa. “Using the UFS Academy app video series is a great way to educate operators about food waste. They can learn from concise training sessions, take a simple quiz and receive a ‘Certificate of Completion’ that is emailed to them directly,” says Nicole Harris, Marketing Manager, UFS South Africa.

Partnering with Purpose

But Alex stresses that for food waste training to be truly effective it must be a team effort. “If you want to reduce waste, it doesn’t start and stop in the kitchen. It is everyone’s responsibility,” he says.

“Simple feedback from the front-of-house team about food that’s consistently coming back because there is too much on the plate can, for example, lead to a change that can make a real difference to waste levels. Ultimately, it is this top-to-bottom commitment and communication that will really make a difference in the fight against food waste.”

*The course is open to all without registration until 9 October 2022.


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