Food Waste Management Strategies, with Dr. Carlos Martin-Rios


In this episode, we’re discussing the prevention and management of food waste in the hospitality industry and how hoteliers around the globe can reduce the amount of food waste, with Dr. Carlos Martin Rios.


Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript

Carlos: How about a system where through blockchain or other technologies we can coordinate all around what is going on and then finding where there is supplies or certain food that I could adopt to my menu, where it would be a time for me to coordinate with retailers and other people. Complex Challenging. What I see in the future goes into that direction.


Robin: Going up. Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine with weekly thought provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators. Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcasts brought to you by Hotels Magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham. And my guest today is Dr. Carlos Martin Rios, associate professor of management at the EHL Hospitality Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland. Today, we’re chatting about rethinking food waste management strategies for the hospitality industry.



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Robin: Welcome, Carlos.


Carlos: Thank you for having me.


Robin: I am actually really looking forward to our conversation today because with any kind of hotel property, right after you think about the hotel room, the next thing you think about is food and all of the different outlets. Sadly, I suppose food waste management is a global phenomenon with many environmental and social implications. Can you start us off by explaining to our listeners very briefly how you first became passionately interested in this problem?


Carlos: Sure. Well, basically my research is on sustainability and I do work in hospitality and the food service sector. More specifically, sustainability is something big and sometimes complex and difficult to handle, particularly for people in the industry. So when you start breaking down the very concept of sustainability into more manageable pieces, one very basic one, as you just mentioned, is food. And the thing that really strikes me is that how we can still have this problem, this challenge of food waste. Right. I say something that apparently is to be easy.


Robin: Well, I think you’re absolutely right. It should be easy. And here’s the interesting thing. At least in North America, I think quite a few hoteliers would argue that they’re already participating in something like a farm to table or Second Harvest program. Do you feel that these kinds of initiatives go far enough?


Carlos: Well, unfortunately not. I mean, they are good. I wouldn’t say otherwise. But when we go a little bit into, if you wish, the academic research and we can think of food waste is a phenomenon, we usually divide it into food waste prevention and food waste management. And many of the actions and activities that take place at the workplace have mostly focused on food waste management, which takes for granted that food waste is going to happen. And there is a big, big a big debate around how can we increase awareness in order for all people in F and B, and chefs, and people working around food to understand the complexity of the topic and going into food waste prevention?


Robin: That’s a very interesting distinction that you make between the prevention and the management. Why in your opinion, is now the ideal time to be tackling this problem and making changes?


Carlos: We could answer to this question in a two-fold fashion, we’d say. First of all, we come to a time where there is increasing public awareness about the consequences of food waste in a time where we also experience a lot of food uncertainty in certain parts of the world. So people question not just necessarily customers, but any citizen questions, what are we doing around food that a lot of people are wasting, while at the same time we kind of perceive this food uncertainty And that would be one side of it. The other side is that it goes into what is mostly my research on the idea that we need to keep fostering professionalization of the people working in F&B and in the sense of acquiring more managerial skills and with more management managerial skills. It comes also a little bit of this longer term vision where you just don’t handle a problem that occurs, but you can plan and prevent it before it occurs. And that is, I think, the moment in which we are right now when we can tell professionals, okay, you’re doing great, you’re extremely passionate about your work. We can see that. But you also need to wear this managerial professional hat to think of a strategic planning or strategic food waste management.


Robin: That’s a very interesting idea because you may not be aware I have a bit of a background in hotels myself, and when I think about all the different ways that food can go to waste, overstocking, poor, inter-departmental communication, improperly trained staff, poor pantry management, menu planning errors, the list goes on and on and on. Where do you start to tackle a problem this complex? I guess what I’m really trying to ask here is what can hoteliers do to reduce food waste naturally into all of their existing processes.


Carlos: This is a wonderful question and a difficult one. But I would say usually most of the processes and as will be standard operating procedures that take place in hospitality and the food service sector are very much operational driven, meaning you do have a situation and you try to solve it right away. There is a little bit of less time to plan in advance, and this comes with this challenge of the silo thinking. So the guy that is in charge of stocking might be not in close collaboration with the chefs, and the chefs are usually not in touch with what happens around clients and the service and the F&B managers. So if you were able to place food waste at the centre of all the operations, then we will realize that it is a common challenge to everyone and then we could foster more coordination and collaboration around it and trying to anticipate. So I’m coming back to the same concept that I say before we try to prevent it before it even happens, right?


Robin: So you’re really talking about a change in thinking where we’re not just thinking about preparing and serving food, we’re thinking about more effective use of the resources we have.


Carlos: Absolutely. Yes.


Robin: Okay. I think that’s very interesting. I read one an article that you wrote recently in which you were talking about the global food value chain. And I understand that this is a model that you’ve developed. So can you explain to everybody listening, how can this be leveraged to assess and then minimize food waste within a hotel?


Carlos: Yeah, definitely. And again, this is the complexity. This is the system thinking approach. So usually when we think about the food value chain, we go from upstream to downstream upstream activities. They start with, say, agriculture and farmers and the logistics and the manufacturing and retailers to end up with the hospitality and food service and final consumers. Each and every one of these stakeholders play a role in what it has to do with the food value chain and very much specifically about food waste. So what is very interesting and we seen this this challenge during the COVID times is that the value chain, the supply chain is broken. There is no collaboration and communication coordination across all the different stakeholders. So, yes, at the very end of this chain is the food service. We are downstream. But how about a system and this is where technology and all the elements might play a big role. How about a system where through blockchain or other technologies we can coordinate all around what is going on, right? And then go into seasonal and finding where there is surplus or certain food that I could adapt to my menu, where it would be a time for me to coordinate with retailers and other people. Complex, challenging. But I think the future goes into that that extra.



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Robin: That’s a very good insight. I talked to people involved in developing AI for the hotel industry on this podcast, and every single conversation fascinates me because it highlights just how much all of these things are going to change within the short term, 3 to 5 years, I would say. Can you give us an example of something maybe a boutique hotel operator could do to think differently about their food management strategy?


Carlos: I would, but it will sound a little bit provocative. The thinking here is that we are an industry that we have placed a huge emphasis on service. And this is great, actually, Right. This is the reason why somebody will choose your hotel, your restaurant versus the competitor. But it has this kind of dark side, evil side of hugely artificial competence among hoteliers and establishments. And this is awful in a way for boutique hotels, because all the independent hotels are fighting for the same customer. Now, I believe food waste and food management could be a transversal topic that might foster collaboration among independent hoteliers rather than competition. So in order to bring about change, you need to have a platform where hoteliers can discuss, can find suppliers, can work in a collaborative way to really source products, to really discuss ideas and create these ecosystem around food. What naturally, food waste will be minimised if you wish, but that means a little bit of change in mentality and looking at, yes, I compete for the same market with all the other hoteliers on attracting customers and providing service, but not at the expense of, for example, downplaying the importance of food and food waste. I will also leverage the power of these independent hotels.


Robin: That’s fascinating. So it’s the idea that we’re stronger together.


Carlos: Absolutely, yes.


Robin: How would your advice be the same or different if you were talking to a national brand that’s got 50 hotels, maybe 100 hotels?


Carlos: Exactly. And they face different problems because they already have some purchase power and they can already negotiate with suppliers and they can already try and attract more skilled employees and more qualified employees. And if they don’t happen, they can train them. They should budget for those things that usually a boutique independent hotel might struggle with. So the larger the brand, the more opportunities to do a leverage on the incremental change. So you start by providing training to people, so you increase awareness, then you change practices. It’s more into these SOPs that we set before. So clearly standard operating procedures all along, what goes around food. And then the third step will be, okay, let’s sit together and find a way to prevent any of these problems. Right. And make it even part of the brand. So we all understand the challenges of greenwashing and is problematic. Yes, it is true. But at the same time, when you advertise and you make it part of your brand, the idea that we are zero waste or close to zero waste, you also send in the message to your internal stakeholders, your employees and everyone like, “Hey guys, we do care, so let’s get to work.” And actually we care about your ideas and opportunities to change, to transform the way we do things.


Robin: I think if I had you back a couple of years from now, you would be saying things that a lot of hoteliers had latched on to and bought into. But this is going to be new information for quite a few people, especially in the mid sized to boutique hotels. Can you give us an example of where some of your ideas and strategies are actually being applied currently in the industry?


Carlos: Again, I think the answer would go into we could tackle the answer in different ways. One interesting one is the professionalization of the staff. This is something that we haven’t taken into consideration for many years, that we wanted chefs that would deliver amazing food and no matter what cost. And now we are trying to tell guys, you need to also acquire these other skills like understand the business. And you actually are a big key element of the business to do. Also together with delivering amazing food. You have to understand the business and do business. And food waste is just a pity because we are buying products, raw material, foodstuff and we’re wasting it. That wouldn’t happen in any other activity. Another example, very interesting is technology and technology may play a role. So what we see nowadays is that they are these kind of ecosystem of start ups that are trying to connect the notion of in academia, we call these sustainability oriented innovations very much driven by technology, artificial intelligence, Internet of things and all these other opportunities and trying to apply them to solve these operational problems. So you use technology, you start measuring in a very clever way where to waste end. And these devices might tell you you’re doing


great, but you could do even greater. Treating food differently, designing menus differently, listening to your customers and understanding why we have such a big plate waste or not and all these type of things. So again and with this, I think the most interesting innovation here is almost managerial is the idea of fostering collaboration among everyone involved in food in these establishments.


Robin: Carlos thank you so much for your time today. I’m a big fan of any time we’re talking about system thinking, approach to solving problems and making a world that works for all. You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast brought to you by Hotels magazine. Join us again soon for more up to the minute insights and information specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry. You’ve been listening to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels Magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders

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