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20 tips to stop food waste and reduce your carbon footprint

misshapen vegetables

Cutting down on food wasted should really be a no-brainer for any mobile catering business - not only does it save you money to waste food less, but it helps the environment, too. Read on for 20 great ideas on how to do it.

At a time when millions of people in the UK are struggling to put food on the table, the issue of food waste is an emotive subject. Combined with the ever-growing importance of sustainability, it’s not something any catering business can afford to ignore.

According to sustainability charity Wrap, catering businesses like restaurants and food trucks produce 199,100 tonnes of food waste in the UK every year - costing such businesses a whooping annual figure of £682m!

In fact, the equivalent of 320 million meals is thrown away every year by catering businesses in the UK, that’s enough for five meals for every man, woman and child in the country.

Not only does food waste reduce our ability to feed everyone and cause damage to the environment, but it also makes a big impact on business owners’ bottom line. Food waste could be costing your mobile catering business a small fortune.

Keeping your business well protected in good times and bad is an important part of any owner’s job. The team at Mobilers has been finding business owners the right cover for over 20 years. So, give us a call and arrange a catering trailer insurance quote today.

Why reducing food waste is a great idea

When looking to make any change in business processes, it’s always important to know exactly why you’re doing it. Here’s why reducing food waste should be a top business priority for you.

Saves on food costs

Smart menu planning and buying less of the foods you often end up throwing away - just  two ways you’re going to save money overall on your stock bill.

Saves on labour costs

By improving kitchen working practices, such as reducing over-preparation of food or streamlining your menu, you’ll reduce the amount of time your kitchen staff spend on these tasks.

Increases profits

Not only can you save money by cutting food waste, but you can also increase your profits. It stands to reason the less food you waste, the more will reach your customers and the more profit you can make.

Indeed, according to a global study by Champions 12.3, for every £1 a catering business invests in cutting food waste, they could make a profit of £7. A very strong business case for stopping edible food from reaching the waste bin indeed.

Cuts down on cleaning

As a mobile catering business, you might be used to your customers taking much of their food waste away with them. But remember under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, mobile caterers are also responsible for clearing up any litter around their site - including any food or drink waste left by customers.

Speak to the team at Mobilers about what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. As well as a catering trailer insurance quote, you might also want to include public liability insurance, too, to protect you from claims from customers.

Improves your business reputation

Whether you help the local community by donating food that would otherwise go to waste or simply showing you care about the impact your business has on the environment, it’s going to have a positive impact on your reputation.

Highlighting what you’re doing to counter food waste and improve sustainability will not only make your food truck more recognisable, it’ll also help you attract new customers who appreciate your efforts.

Reduces your environmental impact

It’s estimated by the World Wildlife Fund that between 6% and 8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food. And as a catering business, it’s important that you play a part in that.

By cutting the amount of food waste you produce and improving your recycling behaviour, you can help to reduce your business’s carbon footprint. No matter how small, reducing any negative impact on the environment is vital if we want to preserve the planet for future generations.

Conserves energy and resources

There are huge costs involved in the growing, producing, manufacturing, transporting and disposing of food. By improving your kitchen operations, not overbuying stock and reducing your food waste, you can help to conserve energy and resources and reduce the pollution currently being caused by the food industry.

If you’re wondering how to make your catering more eco-friendly then read our quick guide. As well as ways to reduce food waste and cut down on energy usage, it also includes practical tips on eco-friendly disposables and using your green credentials as a useful marketing tool.

While you’re at it, have you thought about switching to an alternative catering insurance provider? Here at Mobilers, we’ve got years of experience arranging catering trailer insurance quotes.

20 tips to stop food waste

In any catering business, some food waste will be inevitable and simply can’t be avoided. From overstocking to customer leftovers to food loss, there are many reasons why food might be wasted, but also plenty of ways to stop this from happening.

Some of the changes we suggest below are connected to the way in which you order and prepare food, while others are connected to how you operate your mobile catering business overall.

1. Measure how much food you’re wasting

Get together as a team and think of ways to accurately record how much food your mobile catering business is currently throwing away. From this, you should then be able to calculate exactly how much food and money is being lost every month.

Pay close attention to precisely what foods are being thrown away most frequently. For example, according to waste and recycling experts Willshee’s, some of the most commonly wasted foods include:

  • Potatoes
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Bread and baked goods
  • Pasta and rice
  • Meat and fish

You’ll also want to keep an eye on the value of the food being wasted. While you might throw away more potatoes by weight, if you’re binning expensive items such as meat and fish, then this will have a big impact on your bottom line. Something that needs to be taken into account in any food waste reduction strategy.

2. Keep a record of food waste

Reducing food waste won’t happen overnight, you’ll need to check that any new strategies you adopt are implemented properly.

By keeping track of your food waste and how it changes over time, you’ll be in a better position to change strategies based on what works best for your business.

And this doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process. It could be something as simple as weighing the food waste compost bin before it’s collected each week.

3. Keep staff engaged

In business, you can’t succeed without the backing of your staff. Keep everyone motivated and engaged about stopping food waste with the following four-stage process recommended by food waste management specialist Winnow:

  • Awareness – Discuss why stopping food waste is so important both to your business and individual staff members.
  • Accountability – Create a sense of ownership when it comes to stopping food waste.
  • Action – Agree on what food waste reduction strategies are right for your team.
  • Award – Acknowledge your team’s hard work and share successes.

4. Only buy what you need

someone putting leftovers into the bin

Ordering stock for your mobile catering business requires both preparation and organisation. We all know how easy it is to be tempted by special offers from food suppliers, but try to resist.

If you order too much food, especially items with a short life span, this can lead to overstocking your fridge and unnecessary food waste.

5. Keep an eye on the seasons

Seasonal menus not only provide an interesting change for customers but they’ll also help you to buy and use food items when they’re most plentiful.

Depending on the type of food you serve, your food truck may well be quieter or busier at certain times of the year, so be sure to buy accordingly.

6. Buy local

As well as supporting the local economy and winning friends in your local community, buying produce that is in-season locally means it will be picked at peak ripeness. Great news for those chefs dedicated to serving up the best tasting food packed with the maximum nutritional content.

By shopping locally there will also be fewer food miles involved in getting stock to your kitchen, and food storage/travel conditions won’t impact the quality. This will also help prolong the shelf life of stock.

7. Grow your own

A great idea that many top chefs and restaurants now use is to include foods produced in their own small-scale kitchen gardens.

If you’re lucky enough to have your own allotment then adding your produce to your menu will not only reduce costs and your food miles, but it will provide a real selling point for sustainability-minded customers.

8. Look out for overpreparation

Can you really be too prepared? Well, if you’re frequently throwing away the same pre-prepared foods then you might need to think again.

Predicting which days, weeks or months are likely to be busier can be difficult in the mobile catering world. But if you want to stop food waste and stay in business then you’d better start now. 

9. Store food correctly

Fridges and freezers should always be running at the right temperature. Make a point of checking these on a regular basis. Foods that are stored correctly and safely will help to extend shelf life and reduce spoilage.

Training all kitchen staff on food safety and hygiene will help them understand how to store food correctly. There are some excellent courses offered by the NCASS (Nationwide Caterers Association) worth checking out.

First things first, though: you need to make sure you, your staff, your business and all assets are protected by the right insurance cover. And after getting a catering trailer insurance quote from Mobilers, why not read our food hygiene tips for mobile catering staff?

10. Let FIFO guide you

The First-In/First-Out or so-called FIFO rule is a simple way to reduce food waste from spoilage. As a new food delivery comes in make sure to put the recent arrivals behind the old stock.

That way the older stock that’s closer to its use by date will be picked off the shelf first. Simple but very effective.

We’ve got more on the difference between ‘use by dates’ and ‘best before’ dates elsewhere on our site.  

11. Take care over labelling

Paying close attention to food labelling is an important part of keeping customers safe, but it can also help with controlling food waste. When unpacking new stock, get into the habit of labelling and listing each and every item.

Keeping a clear record of allergens and expiration dates will reduce the likelihood that food is thrown away in error. It’ll also make daily loading of your trailer a lot more efficient as you’ll know exactly what food needs to be used first and what can be left behind until tomorrow.

12. Keep an accurate stock inventory

When you’re busy labelling it’s also a good idea to add this information into a stock inventory list. That way you’ll always know what food is in stock and what food needs to be reordered – making restocking much more efficient.

13. Be creative when reviewing your menu

When pulling together your menu, think of the tastiest yet most efficient use of the available food. For example, rather than peeling potatoes, leave the skins on for delicious fries or jacket potatoes.

Or better yet, take a read of these amazing Jamie Oliver recipes to reduce food waste. Yummy!

When was the last time you refreshed your menu? If some dishes aren’t as popular as they used to be, consider removing them. Particularly if they contain ingredients that are likely to spoil.

Try to design your menu so it’s based on a number of core ingredients. Then, if one dish sells well you can use up the core item from another option that might not be hitting the mark.

14. Don’t let food scraps go to waste

Linked to the previous tip, even fresh produce that’s left over from food prep or past its best can still be used in stocks or soups rather than thrown away.

Always ensure food hasn’t spoiled, though, and ask about including public liability in your mobile catering insurance to protect you from food poisoning claims.

15. Give your customers more control over their food

A lot of food waste comes from customers leaving items they don’t want or are too full to eat. By allowing customers to choose which side orders they want, rather than adding them as standard, you’re far more likely to reduce waste.

16. Offer different portion sizes

Not everyone who arrives at your food truck will want to embark on a Man vs Food eating challenge. Some people may just want a light lunch before heading back to work.

By offering different portion sizes for certain times of the day, or including smaller meal options on the menu, you can reduce the amount of food left uneaten.

17. Recycle, recycle, recycle

Rather than adding food waste into your regular bin, make sure there’s a specific food disposal bin close at hand. This makes collection much easier for your local council or waste contractor and keeps food waste away from landfill.

When it comes to bins and waste there’s a surprising amount for a mobile catering business owner to know about. Our mobile caterer’s guide to bins and waste is an invaluable resource to keep you informed and on the right side of the law. 

The article is packed full of advice on dealing with food waste including cooking oil, fats and grease. It also contains a handy guide to all the different types of bins available for your business. 

As well as following Food Standards Agency guidelines to the letter, a key tool for managing any risk is having the right insurance cover for your business. The helpful team at Mobilers is always available to answer any questions you may have when it comes to catering trailer insurance quotes or other insurance issues.

18. Offer staff a free meal

When staff finish for the day why not offer them a free meal, so they help eat some of the surplus? It’s also a nice little benefit members of your team will appreciate.

19. Donate any leftovers

Could any unsold food or meals that are still safe to eat be donated to your local homeless shelter or food bank? Helping your local community and reducing your food waste is a win-win situation indeed.

If you’re unsure about where to offer your surplus food then contact FareShare. This is a national network that delivers food to nearly 9,500 frontline charities and community groups including school breakfast clubs, older people’s lunch clubs, homeless shelters, and community cafés.

If you’re a food business with surplus food then complete the simple form on their website and a member of the FareShare team will get back to you.

20. Sign up to a food app

It’s inevitable that some food will be left over at the end of a day’s trading, but signing up to a food app like Too Good To Go could help reduce the amount that ends up in the bin. The app connects you to local customers, who come and collect any food that you won’t be able to use the next day.

As well as helping reduce food waste and boost your eco-credentials, the app also gives your business much-needed exposure and could even attract new customers.

Arrange a catering trailer insurance quote today

woman putting leftover veg into compost bucket

Whether cutting down on food waste or finding the next big hit on your menu, running a mobile catering business is a tough job. Let Mobilers help you out by arranging a catering trailer insurance quote tailored to you, your business and budget.

From trailers and vans to trikes, portacabins/containers and more, we’ve got your business covered. We can even include protection for fixtures and fittings.

A catering trailer insurance quote is easy to arrange with Mobilers. Give us a call today.

Frequently asked questions

How profitable is a food van?

The profitability truly depends on several factors including location, menu selection, van maintenance, and marketing strategies. A well-run food van can net an impressive profit margins however it's not all sunshine and hot dogs. Running a business is never easy and appropriate research and planning should be a priority before starting a catering trailer.

How do I find my niche when starting a catering business?

Begin by identifying what you love cooking and what you're exceptionally good at. Is it exotic cuisine, comfort food, vegan dishes, or gourmet meals? Consider your potential customers' needs too. Research the local market to understand its demands and gaps.

Are there enough vegan caterers? Can you offer something unique like gluten-free or organic food? Do people need catering services for corporate events or intimate gatherings? This intersection of your passion, expertise, and market demand can help you carve out your unique niche in the catering business.

How do I start a successful catering business?

To kick-start a successful mobile catering van, the first step is to conduct thorough market research. Understand what food options are already available and where your unique offering fits in. Next, create a business plan that outlines your vision, target audience, and financial projections.

Acquiring the right licenses and permits is essential operate legally. Invest in a high-quality van and necessary cooking equipment. Remember, the success of your catering business heavily relies on the quality of food you serve, so never compromise on it. Lastly, effective marketing strategies can help you reach potential customers and make your mobile catering business a hit.

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