Creating a Sustainable Future

Sofitel London St. James 10.30am - 4.00pm

Creating A Sustainable Future in Foodservice

This event explored how businesses and individuals are making a difference to ESG in foodservice and hospitality and it’s supply chain and how they are implementing change and leading the way in sustainable ways of operating to build a better world.

Attendee List


Take a look at the attendee list for this event.

Event Review

More than 120 business leaders gathered at The Sofitel London St James Hotel for Arena’s Sustainability event, for an inspiring and informative day, exploring how businesses and individuals are making a difference to ESG in foodservice and hospitality and it’s supply chain and how they are implementing change and leading the way to build a better world.

Responsible businesses developing more sustainable operations are at the heart of the UK’s foodservice and hospitality sector. And with the pressure of inflation and the cost-of-living crisis on everyone’s mind, an event to explore these themes could not have been timed better - as consumers continue to re-evaluate the way they spend their money and are more aware than ever of the impact the brands they use have on the world around them.

On arrival, guests were able to network, whilst enjoying refreshments and pastries provided by Nestle Professional and Delifrance, before sitting down for the opening session hosted by Reuben Pullan, Senior Insight Consultant, CGA by NIQ, who set the day’s optimistic tone.

“Although there are a lot of challenges that have impacted the industry, green shoots are emerging, trends are starting to change, and this all bodes well for the future of sustainability within the industry.”

State of the Nation

Reuben looked at current market confidence, pointing out the ongoing challenges for both operators and consumers. While business confidence had fluctuated significantly in recent times, with Covid, rising inflation and economic policy causing huge uncertainty, there were signs of positive change on the horizon. Data suggests over the last quarter (to March 2024) restaurants and casual-dining venues are starting to bounce back, a trend which is expected to continue. Turning to consumer confidence, he noted that people are broadly trying to maintain their historical spend and were mediating increasing prices by cutting back on serves and visits. However, the desire to keep eating out remained high, with 70% of consumers saying that going out is integral to their lives.

Moving on to cost impact for operators, Reuben emphasised how these were up across the market, with 73% of operators citing staff costs as their largest expenditure. Although operators are having to unavoidably spend more on staff costs, there are some gains to doing so, with the number of businesses experiencing vacancies halving over the past year. There were also hugely positive signs when it comes to energy costs, with the majority of operators reporting significant reductions.

Sustainability – the Business and Consumer Perspective

Reuben then shifted the conversation to focus on sustainability. It is now a priority issue for operators, as they look to increase stability and security for the future, with 68% of operators ranking sustainability as their top concern over the next year, above issues such as business debt and investor confidence. Although some operators are starting to make sustainable changes, such as putting more vegetarian and vegan options on menus, many still feel behind the curve in their sustainability efforts: there is a sense the industry needs to be doing more. This is set to change, with over two thirds (68%) of operators stating that they want to invest in green technology over the next three years, ranking ahead of investment in new sites (57%) or major redevelopments (55%). He also emphasised the need for support from suppliers in supporting operators on their sustainable practices as key to driving change.

When it comes to consumers, Reuben talked about how consumers “are visiting hospitality for hospitality” so perhaps unsurprisingly, only 5% of guests see sustainability as a driver for venue choice. However, it is still something they consider an essential expectation in out-of-home visit, so it’s vital the operators are catering towards this.

He then turned his attention to engaged activists – those consumers who want to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle and who say sustainability is an important part of where they choose to visit – and the opportunity they present to operators. These consumers are so engaged with the market and going out at higher frequencies, that they make up 48% of total sector visits. Furthermore, they are willing to pay more for food and drinks when eating out, if they know they are coming from a sustainable source, making them a valuable customer base for operators to tap into. He also stressed that when it comes to sustainability consistency is key. Over a third of this group would be less likely to visit a venue or purchase in the future, if they found out a brand they had invested in wasn’t sustainable.

Finally, he highlighted waste as an accessible opportunity for reputational gain, with consumers prioritising recycling, food and drink waste reduction initiatives and social responsibility, as significant factors in creating a sustainable reputation for food/drink brands.


Following Reuben’s session, guests were given the opportunity to network at a drinks and canape reception, before tucking into a delicious three course meal, with a selection of low-carbon wines provided by Unity Wines, soft drinks and mineral water provided by Britvic Soft Drinks and a selection of kefir provided by Biotiful Gut Health.

Menus were also marked up with Nutritics’ Foodprint labels, showing the carbon footprint of each course – highlighting how operators and foodservice providers are helping to inform and educate consumers about environmental impact of their food choices, through a simple and easy-to-understand solution.

Keynote address

After lunch, Jon Davies, MD, Levy UK & Ireland delivered a keynote address, focusing on their recent partnership with sustainable packaging innovators Notpla, and the importance of engaging with suppliers to help activate change at a wider scale.

“Sustainability is not a tick box. I believe if we show leadership in this space, it creates a purposeful company and hopefully a purposeful industry... We feed millions and millions and millions of people between us all and if we all try and change the direction, there is a chance we can activate change.”

He provided a stark reminder of the environmental problem we face, highlighting that in the last 50 years alone, two thirds of wildlife and 50% of insects and marine life has been destroyed; our annual consumption of fossil fuels has doubled; rates of diabetes have quadrupled and obesity tripled; and finally, and most relevantly, annual plastic production has grown 20-40%.

Jon moved on to focus on the power of seaweed and how it could be a potential solution to protecting our oceans and reducing the industry’s reliance on disposable plastics.

“Seaweed is amazing. Our oceans are the biggest absorber of C02 in the whole planet – if we didn’t have them, we’d already be well over 3 degrees over our temperature rise, but they have reached a saturation point and become acidic, which is why coral is bleaching and why marine life is dying out. We need to start taking carbon out of the ocean and one way to do this is through seaweed, as it locks carbon into its natural structure.”

He then invited Pierre Paslier - Founder of Notpla and winner of the Earthshot Prize - to the stage to talk more about their sustainable packaging. He explained how they use seaweed - one of nature's most abundant and fastest growing resources - to replicate the qualities of plastics, helping to replace millions of items of single-use plastic takeaway packaging.

With 9% of all of the plastic ever produced having been recycled and 12% incinerated, the rest lies in landfills or has been dumped into the oceans. However, the partnership has enabled Notpla to drastically scale up the speed, helping to turn back the tides on plastic pollution and reduce waste.

“Seaweed has been here a billion years longer than anything on the surface of the earth, so nature knows exactly what to do with seaweed at end of life. It naturally biodegrades and is part of the natural lifecycle therefore, we never create waste.”

Currently used at major sports and entertainment venues including The Kia Oval, Aston Villa Football Club, Twickenham Stadium and Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, in the coming months the packaging will be rolled out to around 50 further event facilities. Looking ahead, Pierre also mentioned there are some exciting innovations to come, including cutlery.   

Panel discussion

Following his keynote, Jon then joined the panel discussion hosted by Mark Chapman, Founder and CEO of Zero Carbon Forum with other guests, Jon Dale, Strategic Corporate Affairs and ESG Lead, Punch Pubs & Co; Mike Hanson, Director of Sustainable Business, WSH; Mark Jankovich, CEO, Delphis Eco and Julie Owst, Head of Sustainability, Bidfood. The discussion drew on a range of key themes.

The climate urgency: The panel discussed how we can no longer bury our heads in the sand when it comes to climate change. Ignoring it poses significant financial and reputational risk to businesses, with Jon Dale commenting that “businesses who aren’t addressing it, will get left behind.” They discussed that there has been progress within the industry, with more importance being attributed to ESG issues, but emphasised that more change is needed. To achieve this and drive real action the panel agreed advocacy was key.  

Engagement: engaging internal stakeholders on sustainability has been a struggle, but the group noted a seismic change in investor appetite for ESG and a heightened desire to understand what businesses are doing when it comes to sustainability and why. Both Mike and Jon Dale spoke about menu engineering and how the re-education of culinary teams and chefs, had been key to not only to engaging key stakeholders but driving the cultural change that is needed for the planet. The panel also touched on the importance of internal buy in, particularly from employees and discussed how operators must be able to demonstrate what they’re doing from a sustainability perspective to the next generation of employees, who are more environmentally-savvy than ever, or face losing out on important talent.

Collaboration: The panel focused on the importance of collaboration, in helping the sector become more sustainable and in particular the need to develop better collaboration at supplier level. Jon touched on scope 3 emissions, which come through the supplier network, and the importance of working together if we are to drive these down. The panel also focused on the power of knowledge sharing in driving positive change, with Julia highlighting that Bidfood have seen real success with developing case studies and fact sheets for their website, to help educate customers on each sustainability problem, what the business is doing to address it and how operators can help. She also highlighted that although “carbon impact is where customers priorities are right now, there is far more to food sustainability then just carbon footprint” and it’s important we continue to discuss these other areas too.  

After the panel discussion the event drew to a close. A huge thank you to all our event sponsors and partners – Delifrance, Britvic Soft Drinks, Unity Wines & Spirits, Nestlé, Lakeland Dairies and Nutritics. And thank you to everyone who took part in our raffle, raising over £1600 for Springboard and Hospitality Action.

We hope to see you all at the next Arena event on the 12th July – more details coming soon!

Thank You

Thank you to Clarissa Smale, Senior Account Director, Fleet Street Communications for this event review.

Fleet Street recently launched a new report – The Language of Sustainability – which explores the consumer understanding of the language companies use when describing their climate change initiatives. The report revealed a worryingly low understanding of some of the most common terms that businesses use when communicating about sustainability, with 11% of consumers saying they have a thorough understanding of the term ‘carbon offsetting’, despite it being one of the primary methods that businesses rely on to hit their net zero goals. You can read more and access the full report here.   

Event Timings

10.30am Guest Arrival
4.00pm Guests Depart / Networking Continues