BaxterStorey's Food & Mood campaign nourishes both the mind and body

02 February 2024 by

Rather than pushing dull diets on its customers, BaxterStorey has taken the route of offering delicious food to nourish both the body and mind

BaxterStorey's Food & Mood campaign was created by Andy Aston, head of wellness and nutrition, and Lizzie Hennig, head of nutrition.

The campaign offers a way of eating to its business and industry clients that encompasses a plant-based focus, the message of eating 30 plants a week, seasonality, fermented foods, gut health and much more to make healthy food more enticing and spell out the link between good food and good mental health. Here, they explain how it works for clients.

There's been a great focus on wellness and nutrition in recent years – how have you capitalised on this?

Andy Aston (AA): As head of wellness and nutrition, I'm focused on looking at the wellbeing of our people and our clients – that's talking to people, seeing how they're doing and understanding what they need. We were ahead of the game before the pandemic, but Covid made this a more prominent focus, so we knew we needed to react quickly.

Lizzie Hennig (LH): It's definitely a core focus for us now, in tandem with sustainability. When we're in sales bids for new clients and talking to customers, it's all about wellbeing as well as what BaxterStorey is doing for the planet. Sustainable nutrition is top of the agenda.

What are you doing differently when you are focusing on wellness with your business and industry clients?

AA: For me, it's physical and mental wellness. I like to look at the work environment and see if the simple things we all know we need to do are being done: to do our jobs: is the break-out room nice and airy? Are people taking lunch breaks? After that I look at the food. I believe we've always offered good food, but it's about adding more value to the food we serve to enhance the overall eating experience.

How have customers reacted to the wellness trend in the workplace?

AA: I think people are a lot more curious to try different things so we're trying to make food more exciting through education. Getting food on the counter and having our colleagues there talking about it is how Food & Mood came about. It's about being physically there for our teams and our clients.

What are the key concerns in terms of wellness and nutrition for customers?

LH: Obesity is a growing problem that people are becoming very aware of. Food is about so much more than calories and people want to know what they are eating, so it's about how we educate our teams and our customers. And that includes your gut health, mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing.

So it's about encouraging a healthy diet?

LH: We're actually trying to move away from the word "healthy" as it's become associated with boring food and diets. It's the same with vegan and vegetarian. We want to move towards ‘wholesome' and ‘nourishing' and ‘heroing' the food we're using. It's about sustainable changes that are achievable – a ‘diet' is not sustainable – you're not going to be able to cut out bread, for example, for the rest of your life – so we want to make sustainable, nutritious changes to get consumers on a really good track.

Tell us about 30 plants a week

LH: We all know that around five or seven fruit or vegetables a day is encouraged in our diets, but further research has found that in order to maintain a healthy gut, one of the best ways to do that is to eat 30 – or more – different plants a week, to get the diversity in your gut. But that's not just fruit and veg, it's seeds, pulses, herbs – even small amounts can add up to your target.

AA: We're working with our teams to make them more aware of this trend, so when customers come to the salad bar our teams can engage with them and answer questions because so many people see 30 plants a week and think that's not achievable. Our teams can encourage customers to try and hit 20 and work their way up, because once you've started it's quite easy to reach that number.

LH: We've done a 30-plant bingo for our teams internally and we're looking at how we can roll that out to clients to engage customers. Companies can have their staff ticking plants off and at the end of the week they receive a reward. It is all about engagement.

Can you provide an example of a nutritious meal at a similar price point to, say, a jacket potato with cheese and beans?

AA: Soup! We sell a lot of soup, but it can be so much more than just chucking veg and a stock cube into a blender. We serve soup made from roasted root vegetables – using up all that veg which might go to waste – but it comes with lots of different toppings, such as a seedy granola with four or five different seeds, a flavoured oil and herbs. It's taking soup to another level and turning a simple bowl into a hearty meal by looking at the seasons and what's available that month.

Fermented foods are very on-trend, but can be quite difficult for some people to get their heads around. How are you translating trends like this into contract catering?

LH: We start off talking about eating like our ancestors, where there was never any wastage as people would be pickling and fermenting. We all know that is really good for your gut, but a lot of people are a bit sceptical of it. So I think it's about educating customers on probiotics, prebiotics and what they do to your gut and offering customers opportunities to taste these new and unusual foods.

We also need to point out that there's a lot of greenwashing when it comes to fermented food. You might see a kimchi on a shelf and think it's healthy and then read the label on the back of the jar to discover it has preservatives in it, which isn't fermented food.

AA: Our Chef Academy is looking at shelf life of foods. We have policies where we can only hold food for so long, so they've been looking at pickling, fermenting, curing and jamming all sorts of things so we can eat like our ancestors to try and get an extended shelf life from our food.

We're in the business of food, but typical office workers might not be as obsessed. How do you encourage ‘non-foodies'?

AA: I love the non-foodies – they're a blank canvas. They might say "I don't like tomatoes, but I like ketchup", or they won't have tried asparagus before, and you offer in-season asparagus to try and explain why their pee will smell different after they've eaten it and then everyone is laughing and all of a sudden they're engaged. We've been engaging customers through Food & Mood for the past 18 months, but really we do it all the time – we're always talking in kitchens with chefs and coming up with new ways to talk about food. The main thing for us is not being afraid to talk to the customer.

LH: Yeah, the foodies are great and they are eager to know more and more, but often they've already heard of 30 plants and fermentation, but talking to people who have never heard of these things is great as you can watch them become engaged. It's so nice to hear that people have gone home and cooked differently, because those are the people you can really make a difference with.

What's exciting you most in food and nutrition?

LH: The biggest thing for me is that it seems to be the top of everyone's agenda and people are excited and want to learn more. Chefs want to learn and our customers want more – everyone now is engaged and the most exciting thing about our role is that it's always changing.

AA: I'm excited by the fact that we're turning away plant-based meat alternatives. We've done a lot of work on this about how to get more nutrients into a plant-based meal without using protein or pre-made products with additives and preservatives. There's no reason why we can't make a veggie burger from beautiful beans and pulses.

How BaxterStorey collaborates with Waste Knot

Over 7% of fruit and vegetables grown in the UK never makes it to a plate, generating more than £1b worth of food going to waste.

BaxterStorey partnered with Waste Knot in 2021 to get surplus fruit and vegetables out of farmers' fields and into its kitchens. Not only does the partnership support its commitment to minimising food waste, it enables collaboration with a wide community of UK growers.

Working with Waste Knot has challenged chefs and mixologists to think outside the (veg) box, inspiring them to think seasonally and to explore new ways of cooking with all parts of the plant and experimenting with new ingredients, resulting in dishes such as squash and Gorgonzola pizza, pumpkin gnocchi and ‘partridge in a pear tree' mocktails. Weekly Waste Knot boxes are sent to 300 BaxterStorey locations, with one flagship London location rescuing 1.1 tonnes of fruit and vegetables for its Christmas lunches. Overall, since launch, BaxterStorey has rescued 14,200 boxes of fruit and veg, averaging 213,000kg.

The partnership has also introduced impact programmes such as Soup with Purpose. This focuses on nutrition and sustainability, with recipes incorporating butternut squash and ginger or spiced parsnip and apple, where surplus veg, which otherwise would have headed straight to landfill, is used. A percentage of the money raised goes directly to local communities in support of a soup kitchen or food bank.

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