Study: Hotels Save $7 for Every $1 Spent Reducing Food Waste

A new study by Champions 12.3 makes the business case for hotels to reduce food waste from their kitchens 

Here's a startling statistic: One-third of all food produced in the world is never eaten. And yet, approximately 800 million people do not have enough food to eat.

In the United States, approximately 40 percent of food waste -- over 25 million tons per year -- comes from consumer-serving businesses like hotels and restaurants, which means the hospitality industry is well positioned to make a major impact. 

With that in mind, a new research study seeks to make the business case for hotels to reduce the amount of food they throw away. Published yesterday by anti-food-waste group Champions 12.3"The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Hotels" evaluated financial cost and benefit data for 42 hotels across 15 countries and found that nearly every site realized a positive return on investment when they reduced food waste. In fact, for every $1 they invested in programs to reduce kitchen food waste, hotels saved an average of $7 in operating costs.

"The 7:1 return on investment comes from buying less food and thereby reducing purchase costs, increasing revenue from new menu items developed from leftovers or foods previously considered 'scraps,' and lower waste management costs," explained Champions 12.3, a coalition of nearly 40 government, business, and civil leaders whose goal is mobilizing action around Target 12.3 of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, which calls on the world to "halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses" by 2030.

Champions 12.3 found that hotels on average reduced food waste from their kitchens by 21 percent over the course of one year, and over 70 percent had already recouped their investment within the same year. Within two years, 95 percent had recouped their investment.

Investments -- including measuring and monitoring the amount of food wasted, training staff on new food handling and storage procedures, and redesigning menus -- cost below $20,000 for nearly 90 percent of hotels, which on average was less than 1 percent of sales.

"We need to take action right across the food chain if we're going to halve food waste by 2030. That means reducing food waste in homes, farms, retail, distribution, and in the hospitality sector," said Champions 12.3 Chair Dave Lewis. "This report clearly shows that reducing waste in hotels isn't just the right thing to do. It also makes good business sense. So even if the moral imperative doesn't move us, the business case for reducing food waste should persuade every CEO."

In its report, Champions 12.3 recommends hotel owners and managers take a "target, measure, act" approach to reduce the amount of food wasted in their kitchens. Specifically, it outlines five action steps for hotel managers, based on interviews with those who have implemented successful food waste reduction programs:

1. Measure the amount of food being wasted to know where to prioritize efforts. 
2. Engage staff.
3. Re-think the buffet
4. Reduce overproduction.
5. Re-purpose excess food.

"The Sustainable Development Goals give us clear targets, which we need to achieve in just 13 years. We know that the worldwide food waste challenge is large and urgent. It will not be easy to solve and requires action by all of us," said Liz Goodwin, senior fellow and director of food loss and waste at World Resources Institute. "This report demonstrates that action by the hotel sector can bring results quickly and that there are real financial benefits to be realized. There is no time to waste and we need more leaders to step up and do their bit, improving their businesses and securing the economic, social, and environmental benefits."