The savvy steps pizzerias can take to reduce kitchen waste
Toppers Pizza has its eyes on waste – and for good reason. After all, food waste has an impact on profitability, the environment and, increasingly, consumer sentiment.
Over the last 18 months, Donette Beattie, vice president of supply chain for the 69-unit, Wisconsin-based chain, says Toppers leadership has investigated various “opportunities” to reduce kitchen waste.
And Toppers is far from alone. From national names to regional players to single-door independents, better managing kitchen waste continues gaining traction among pizzerias.
For many, diminishing profitability prompts waste reduction efforts. Robb White of Leanpath, a pioneer in food waste prevention technology, says typical foodservice kitchens waste 4-10 percent of their purchased food. When food enters the trash, money follows.
“Food waste comes right off the bottom line,” Beattie reminds.
Food waste also contributes to labor inefficiencies. Staff preparing unused dough or washing trays that held discarded dough, for instance, squanders time and money, Toppers director of franchise operations Matt Martin says.
Yet more, there is escalating societal awareness about issues such as greenhouse gases emanating from landfills, food insecurity and the sheer irresponsibility of wasting food. Running a kitchen mindful of food waste holds growing sway with employees and consumers, who continue to express interest in companies favoring sustainable practices and sound ethics.
Prevention: The best way to manage food waste
The Food Waste Hierarchy from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides an unambiguous look at the best – and worst – ways to attack food waste. At the bottom of the inverted pyramid, the least desirable result, sits sending food to a landfill, where it decays and produces methane, the most powerful greenhouse gas. Thereafter, the EPA identifies, in ascending order, composting, industrial uses such as fuel conversion, animal feed and donation as increasingly preferable options.
And topping the list?
“[Source reduction is] the most favored approach because it stops food waste from being created in the first place, saving kitchens money and reducing their environmental impact,” White says.
Here’s how savvy operations can reduce kitchen surpluses:
Leverage technology: A data-based inventory system will help operators manage ingredient use and highlight purchasing needs in accordance with sales, thereby helping management find opportunities for both cost and waste reduction, says Matthew S. Hollis, co-founder of Elytus, an Ohio-based firm that helps restaurants streamline waste and recycling operations.
Sales forecasting: Pizza Hut’s first step in preventing waste at its 18,500 worldwide locations is one other pizzerias can mimic: accurate sales forecasting based on a mix of historical data and upcoming events, Pizza Hut U.S. chief customer and operations officer Nicolas Burquier says.
Avoid over-ordering: As enticing as bulk deals might be, excess inventory can lead to product “code dating” before use and cause rotation issues, as hustling staff might grab product without respect for code dates.
“Try to monitor what actually gets used and adjust your purchase orders from there,” Hollis says.
Assess purchasing: In sourcing its products, Toppers focuses on optimal optimization. While a bigger pack size might cost less per ounce, it’s a futile purchase if contents go unused. Toppers also explores different packaging options. Some pouch packs, for example, can produce better yield than cans.
Align quality, operations and cost: Toppers manages waste by cutting and prepping produce in house, which allows stores to respond to the demands of a given day.
“While the convenience of precut items is nice from a labor standpoint, their shelf life is shorter and the cost per pound larger if you don’t use them on time,” Martin says.
Educate employees: Provide proper training on food waste protocols and stress the importance of minimizing waste to all staff.
“If one employee incorrectly disposes of something,” Hollis notes, “it may contaminate the entire batch of recyclables and prevent recycling.”
Track inventory: White advises operators to check for quality on delivery, install a first in-first out system and monitor expiration dates. Operators, he adds, might also track food waste, if not with an automated solution then at least by investigating a metric like returned items. Some food waste trends might underscore the need for staff training.
Shift operations: Toppers continues testing different operational tools to minimize waste, including catch trays on the make line to capture cheese and toppings that fall off during production and a cup portioning system for cheese and higher-cost proteins. The chain is also exploring equipment such as sheeters, presses and cutters that might help kitchen staff use less product, achieve better quality and/or ensure uniformity in portions.
Think small: While the kitchen might prefer to produce one oversized batch of a given item, bulk production can increase waste. Instead, White suggests creating small batches relative to the day’s demand.
Turn excess into opportunity: Perhaps the restaurant ordered vegetables for a new salad that didn’t resonate with guests. Repurpose those excess ingredients into a daily pizza special so the veggies don’t go to waste.
Ax the dogs: An oversized, bloated menu requires more food to be on hand and increases the risk of expired goods. Toppers has addressed this by eliminating slow-moving menu items that add to complexity and waste.
Involve staff in solutions: Solicit thoughts from staff on how the eatery can further reduce waste.
“Sustainability requires a consistent commitment to waste reduction from every single member of the team,” Hollis reminds.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.