The UK hospitality industry is among those who often rely heavily on palm oil for ingredients for cooking, and cleaning products.
In some areas, oil palm cultivation has caused, and continues to cause, deforestation which in turn has led to biodiversity and habitat loss, and in some cases even the displacement of indigenous people. Palm oil is not all bad however, in fact palm oil is the highest yielding oilseed crop in the world and can therefore help to meet increasing food demands while minimising land usage.
The UK Government has committed to achieving 100% sourcing of sustainable palm oil by the end of 2015. We, as an industry are both supportive and realistic about this goal. With this commitment underway, the BHA hopes to work with Government to ensure practical steps are taken to achieve this goal.
Why should your business source sustainable palm oil?
The goal set by government is not legislative and does not come with any financial penalties if targets are not met. However, the BHA supports the procurement of sustainable palm oil, not only because the members of the BHA are leaders in responsible business practices, but because it could benefit your business. Being one step ahead of your competitors could provide you with financial and reputational benefits.
In order for the hospitality industry to procure sustainable palm oil, there needs to be a sufficient supply at a competitive price. Supply currently exceeds demand and prices are the same now as they were in 2010 (Guardian, 2014), however the BHA anticipates that with the government ever moving in this direction it would be wise to, where possible, start sourcing sustainable palm oil to ensure that your business is prepared and stays ahead of the competition.
As you are aware, most hospitality businesses do not control the exact supply of goods and instead rely heavily on a limited number of large logistics companies as well as many local suppliers. Accordingly, the industry’s ability to effectuate change on this issue is to unite with the large food purchasers from other industries to encourage suppliers to make the switch to supplying competitively priced sustainable palm oil at a sufficient quantity to meet demands. However, such a coalition can only go so far, and the Government needs and will be supporting this effort to ensure sufficient quantities are available to ensure their agreed goal of 100% sustainable palm oil imports is achieved.
The real pressure needs to be on ensuring the UK has adequate supplies of competitively priced sustainable palm oil for purchase. The BHA will and do support this push, but sourcing the product is well beyond the remit of the hospitality industry. The supply needs to exist before the industry will physically have the ability to make a choice between sustainable and uncertified palm oil products. The BHA will work to ensure that the government are aware of the above issues to ensure an adequate supply is available to support an uptake of sustainably sourced palm oil in the UK.
Transparency and Consumer Awareness
Consumers are increasingly becoming interested and aware of the issues surrounding palm oil, with 73% of consumers having a high interest in sustainability, and over half (53%) of consumers consider ethical sourcing to be a priority. Additionally, 40% of consumers say they have noticed more communication about ethical initiatives when dining out over the last year, compared with 29% in 2013 (Foodservice, 2014). Consumers are rapidly catching onto ingredients in the food they eat and businesses taking notice now are likely to be in a more competitive position
The Food Information for Consumers Regulation, more commonly identified as the Allergens Regulations, has made food labelling clearer on all food products. This change has made it easier for consumers to identify which products contain palm oil, since the types of vegetable oil used in food products must be stated explicitly on the label. Until now, palm oil has been labelled using the generic term 'vegetable oil’. As such, being able to answer questions on where your palm oil is sourced from, or labelling that your food or product is certified will ensure that your reputation as a responsible business is maintained and will ensure that under increased consumer consciousness your business remains competitive.
The year ahead
As a first step, the membership of the BHA is working with Defra to create a path to sustainability, which will realise the need for sufficient supply and a recognised certification system. The BHA is also developing a practical palm oil overview for members addressing the practicalities of transitioning to sustainable palm oil which is due for release by the end of March 2015. Please keep a look out on our website for more information.
As always the BHA is here to help and support the 40,000 UK hospitality businesses that make up membership of the BHA. Contact Lucy Aldrich-Smith at Lucy@bha.org.uk with questions or feedback.
Foodservice, 2014 ‘Foodservice Eating Out Report’