Local sourcing claims to have become increasingly commonplace. Emily Manson looks at how operators can do it well
Charlotte Jarman, spokeswoman for Sustain's Ethical Eats Network, says: "Claims to source locally are commonplace now, but if you actually look at restaurant invoices and the seasonality of some menus, then it is not necessarily the case. More operators aspire to it these days, but there are many who overstate what they are doing."
So how do you ensure your operation's local sourcing is worth its environmental salt and not just a meaningless line on a menu?
Clarity To be taken seriously by customers, operators need to define what they mean by locally sourced: whether it means the UK, the county, the region or the farm next door.
Jarman explains: "Because locally sourced has become so ubiquitous on menus, to have credibility when using the term, you now need to be more specific and clearly state exactly where your produce comes from."
Flexibility and persistence Karen Williams, owner of the Mulberry Tree restaurant in Boughton Monchelsea, Kent, has used local suppliers since opening and lists all of them on the menu. But, she admits, it is sometimes hard to get consistency.
"Sometimes it's difficult to sustain the level of continued supply from small suppliers that is necessary for a busy restaurant," she says. "But we have overcome this by printing our menu daily."
Williams says the restaurant will always ensure it has is a replacement dish available and she has found this strategy effective. "Customers don't mind you saying that you have sold out of one dish as long as you have something to replace it," she says. "That shows that everything is freshly produced and not from the freezer."
The Mulberry Tree now also keeps its own flock of chickens which produce eggs for the kitchen, but it has not all been straightforward. Initially, Williams had to overcome a battle with the local environmental health authority. She explains: "The eggs are not date stamped, but we persevered and now have the appropriate written procedures in place that allow us to use the eggs."
Access But operators cannot just use local produce just because it is local. If the produce is not up to standard, the operation could damage its own reputation by using it. And even if it is of great quality, these small independent producers can be hard to track down, which is why co-operatives, consortiums, food associations and food hubs are increasingly coming into play as restaurant suppliers.
Schemes like Safe and Local Supplier Approval (SALSA) and Produced in Kent are relatively new to the purchasing platform, but more and more are springing up as demand for artisan producers grows, while operators struggle to find the time to source local produce themselves.
John Dyson, food and technical affairs adviser at the British Hospitality Association (BHA), says SALSA was set up by the BHA, the British Retail Consortium, the National Farmers Union and the Food and Drink Federation to give larger food service businesses access to small regional suppliers of niche artisan products.
"The SALSA scheme enables small businesses to meet certificated food safety standards expected by large businesses through support, independent audits and mentoring," he says. "This provides a means of using local small suppliers that otherwise would not have access to supply these companies."
Prioritise Even with the best will in the world, it is not always possible to source everything locally, so it is important to prioritise. Most customers are not as concerned about dry goods as they are about the sourcing and rearing of animals. Jarman says: "There is a much stronger moral element where live animals are concerned."
So prioritising meat and dairy sourcing is key. "The horsemeat scandal has shown us that the longer and more complicated that supply chains are, the less we know what we are buying," says Jarman. "While a tomato is a tomato, if you are buying meat that is being sold to you as free range, you want to know that's what it really is. The shorter that supply chains are, the greater chance there is of knowing what you're buying."
Fish sourcing is also important, with recent research showing increasing instances of fish being sold that is not the species it is claimed to be. Jarman advises operators to either buy very locally or from third parties that are accredited and sustainable, such as the Marine Stewardship Council.
"It is much harder to be transparent with fish as there are no farms to visit, and only the most diligent buyers will go out on the boats," says Jarman. "But certification helps the traceability of products, whether they come from nearby or further away."
Value Added Consumers may have wised up to the potential for local-sourcing greenwash, but a spokesman for the Sustainable Restaurant Association says: "Punters are using the term 'local' as a proxy to cover a multitude of things. After issues such as the horsemeat scandal, people are reassured and comforted if they think the meat is local as it implies traceability and a shorter supply chain."
Sub-consciously, it goes even further, the spokesman says. He believes people now have a "more sophisticated understanding of the issues", and that it is no longer just about the supply chain, but also about putting money back into a local area, creating a network of local businesses. "Essentially, local sourcing now covers a multitude of good things."
The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant
The three-star Sustainable Restaurant Association-rated Scottish Cafe & Restaurant at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh aims to offer a range of fresh produce from Scotland's growers and farmers. It sources products from more than 60 Scottish artisan producers for monthly menus designed to showcase the best local produce.
- map of suppliers and their produce is displayed at reception and is featured on the menus.
Director Carina Contini says: "Buying directly from the suppliers allows us to take their advice and these valued relationships are forged on a shared passion to make ethical choices. A great deal of time and effort is focused on the sourcing of local and seasonal produce that dictates the monthly menu selection."
All beef, veal, pork and poultry is locally sourced and organic. The lamb supplied is free roaming and organic. Organic eggs are used, as are locally sourced milk and cream, which are supplied by a family dairy that pays a fair price to its farmers. The restaurant also sources locally foraged herbs.
Chefs are also using produce from the restaurant's own kitchen garden, an acre of land five miles away. The restaurant also works with co-ops such as Green City, which have a fair trade policy.
Coutts Coutts private bank uses British meats, such as Hereford beef, Somerset Old Spot pork and Romney Marsh lamb. Vegetables come mainly from British farms, including Bedlam Farm asparagus, Oak Church Farm berries for homemade jams and Secret's Farm for heritage produce.
Kent-based Balfour supplies sparkling wine instead of Champagne and Coutts uses only British fish, such as sole and turbot from Brixham, shellfish such as hand-dived scallops, langoustine and lobster from Gairloch, Scotland and cockles from Dorset.
An urban kitchen garden with more than 15,000 organic plants was created last summer by renowned horticulturalist Richard Vine, including over 200 species of vegetables, fruit, herbs and edible flowers growing on the bank's roof terrace in London.
The vegetable garden includes 500 metres of planters and is located at 440 Strand, 30 metres above street level. Coutts' kitchen serves between 40 and 200 covers a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as catering for large Garden Court events for up to 500 guests.
Peter Fiori, executive chef at Coutts says: "The produce is used daily by the kitchen and every dish served at the Strand has elements from the Coutts garden in the finished plate. Our aim is to pick vegetables, fruit and herbs no more than two hours before serving, to ensure optimum freshness."
Responsible hospitality resource For more information on how to run your business responsibly, visit our online resource www.catererandhotelkeeper.co.uk/responsible-hospitality.
The Responsible Hospitality channel, supported by Accor, Gram UK and Kraft Foods, features tools and guidance that will help you reduce waste and energy usage, while offering examples and information on increasing recycling, ethical food sourcing and social responsibility.