It’s always nice to know your home-away-from-home-cooked meal came from closer to home than you think.
More than 43 per cent of Hospitality Services’ annual food purchases have been deemed ‘local,’ according to a recent survey of food purchases conducted by the Toronto-based Local Food Plus. In dollars and cents, that means nearly $2.3 million of a $5.3 million annual food budget would be spent with local producers.
Conducted to establish a baseline for the organization to build future sustainability efforts, Hospitality Services staff didn’t know what to expect going in. But the findings turned out to be a pleasant surprise, said Anne Zok, Hospitality Services nutrition manager.
The Princeton Review, which recently profiled Western as one of only two Canadian schools in its Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2013 Edition, noted local food sources for a number of the institutions. For comparison, Yale University sourced 39 per cent of its food locally, while other northern institutions like Northwestern University (20 per cent), University of Michigan (18 per cent), Ohio State University (15 per cent) fared far worse. The University of British Columbia, the only other Canadian institution mentioned in the publication, sourced 48 per cent of its food locally.
“It is a very exciting time in the hospitality services industry,” Zok said. “People, I feel, are moving away from the tell-tale ‘diet’ crazes and are settling on a more realistic, holistic approach to wellness. To this end, there is a much greater interest around where products are grown, how they’re grown and the added ingredients they may or may not contain.
“Quite simply, consumers want to know what they’re putting into their bodies.”
The study focused on 2012 food purchases of three on-campus locations – Saugeen Hall, Delaware Hall and the Great Hall (catering) – from five different vendors. For the purpose of the analysis, a local product was defined as one produced and processed in Ontario.
The five vendors surveyed – Green City Produce, Hayter’s Farm, Norwich Packers (Norpac), Agropur and Sysco (specifically Burnbrae Eggs) – showed a variety of success.
On the high end, Hayter’s Farm, which provides turkey products, and Norwich Packers, which provides beef products, both produce and process within Ontario, much within a 100 km of Western.
The study celebrated both producers as examples of tight supply chains. While both companies comprise a small percentage of the total food buy at Western, they demonstrate the potential to work with farms and processors in close proximity, the study stated.
On the low end, Burnbrae Eggs sourced only 26 per cent of its egg products from Ontario. While all shelled eggs come from inside the province, liquid egg products are sourced through facilities in Quebec and Manitoba. The study did give the company credit for using 78 per cent free-run chickens in those non-local facilities.
Overall, Sysco, Burnbrae Eggs’ parent company and Western’s largest supplier with a complex product list, sourced only 11 per cent of its products locally.
Hospitality Services is not new to the sustainability push, which was formalized on campus with the release of a universitywide sustainability strategy, Creating a Sustainable Western Experience, earlier this year. Dating back to 2007, the division’s Sustainability Team has focused on Eating On Campus Initiatives as well as composting, travel mug and water preservation programs. More are to come in the near future.
For next steps, the study made a few suggestions for improvement on the number including working with vendors to identify local foods on invoices; shifting spending to vendors providing best local sourcing service; and adding more sustainability measures to procurement decisions.
Placing a greater emphasis on seasonality also got a nod from the survey.
Some food is not available locally, but has a near equivalent or equivalent replacements available. For example, Granny Smith apples are not grown locally, but are a significant (approximately 2 per cent of the produce buy) purchase. Other apples are available locally and Ontario apple storage infrastructure enables qualities of Ontario apples to be available throughout the purchasing year.
Additionally, Western purchases significant quantities of imported fresh products like pineapple, grapes and melons. In the case of pineapples and grapes, there are no or limited local opportunities. With melon, the local season is constrained.
Within limitations of pricing, and with consideration for providing balanced nutrition and variety, the study suggested shifting and/or increasing spending on preserved and frozen local products that could serve as partial alternatives to imported products. Potential may also exist within the limitation of kitchen and staff infrastructure to engage in preservation of local seasonal product on campus to extend local product beyond the growing season.
As next-level steps, the study also cited opportunity to expand considerations for pesticide use, animal welfare and antibiotic use, energy use, labour practices, Fair Trade in products other than coffee and water use .
“As we move forward, we will continue to benchmark our local purchasing practices and set targets for future growth,” Zok said. “Our goal is to continue to align ourselves with partners who share our sustainability commitment recognizing, that in doing so, we can have a tremendous impact on the health of the Western community as well as the health of the planet. I believe our personal health cannot be divorced from the health of the food chains of which we are all a part.”