When clients in Asia request for Atlantic salmon and Spanish ham, venues are forced to comply. But some are taking matters into own hands – whether it’s working exclusively with local suppliers or educating clients about the natural bounty closer to home.
A good case study is The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Bangkok, the first property in the world to be given an ISO 20121 accreditation (a sustainable event management system), partly because of its committed F&B programme.
“We are quite a large convention hotel, we do more than half a million covers per year,” says general manager Choo Leng Goh. “We, as a team, feel that sourcing healthy or safe food is very important. By safe, we mean organic. And if there was country that could do it, it’s Thailand. It’s an agricultural country.”
Tell us about your sustainable F&B programme.
When we started sourcing organic products, we knew that it would be a lot more expensive. So in order to source organic products at a good price, the only way we could do that is to buy direct. We work with a few partners and associations to source farmers.
Another part of our program is our food waste management. We’re very aware of our waste-per-cover. There’s a preparation waste and then there’s waste from the buffet table. And ultimately, when it’s at the buffet table, there’s no more guests using it, we work with a partner called SOS (Scholars of Sustenance).
Anytime we have leftovers from the buffet, we just call them in and they will pick up all the food to donate to different areas of Thailand. They donate to orphanages, to temples, to churches, and to many locations.
What happens to the inedible food waste?
We separate out the wet waste. We don’t do this the hotel level because of space. In the past, we’ve tried to use fruit to make organic fertilizers but we don’t have the space to do it. So we engage someone to collect it. They manage the waste – some will be processed for fertilizers while some will go to landfill.
What’s the process of sourcing organic produce in Bangkok?
We started to work with organic farmers last year through a recommendation of the Sampran Model. Typically, they don’t have clients who are direct so they still sell to supermarkets. So [Sampran Model] manages to look for these farmers and we find a way to buy from them directly.
Because we buy from them directly, the pricing is a lot cheaper than supermarkets or other channels. The farmers actually get a better price from us than what they would get from other channels. We cut out the middleman.
We believe in what we call fair trade. I don’t force them to give me dirt cheap prices. Most of them are around Bangkok – an hour or so away from Bangkok. [Sampran Model] has a couple of delivery trucks, they pick up the products and deliver them to the city. Maybe twice a week. And they charge a little bit more to cover their costs.
Initially, the farmers were growing certain items and some of them we don’t use in the hotel. We’ve tried to be creative in the kitchen for the first two batches and eventually we’ve ask them to plant what we normally need to use. So we work with them long-term. We started in April last year and now we’re in the second batch of their crops where they’re starting to plant what we want. 100% of our rice consumption is of the same quality and 100% organic.
Do you use a similar model with your meat and seafood produce?
The Sampran Model has meat as well. We’re starting to buy sustainable pork but not all our meat is organic yet. We are continuously sourcing organic with direct purchases.
Does the hotel prefer to offer plated meals over buffets?
A lot of our business has buffets and banquets. Sometimes the organiser wouldn’t know if there’s too much or too little food. So we try to work with the organiser very closely so that we don’t overproduce but we’re also very careful not to underproduce.
In case of any leftover on the buffet, it can go to SOS. We also have direct organisations just around the hotel such as temples and churches. The organisers are happy too because they’re able to help the local community.
The Chinese and Asian culture is so that the more you serve, it shows that you’re caring. We cannot change the culture. So when we do trays of food, we are very careful not to put the trays out all the time and we are faster at replacing them. Any unused food can be donated. If you spread it out and they get half-eaten, then you’re wasting more food.
We have a restaurant called Smooth Curry and 80% of the products there are organic and we haven’t increased the prices. And we are doing so well that the numbers have doubled. And the profit margin gets better.
If [the chef] wants to get his price down even though organic products are a little bit more expensive, he chooses products that are seasonal and it brings the cost down. Of course he has to do more work, he has to be more creative. But it works.