The organic market is continuing to increase across the UK, with overall growth in 2015 at 4.9%, and sales worth £1.95 billion. In order to tap into this groundswell of public interest in organic food, the Soil Association has launched Organic Served Here, an award scheme for restaurants, cafes and other foodservice operators to celebrate their commitment to using organic ingredients.
The Organic Served Here scheme assures customers restaurants source between 15% and 100% of their ingredients from certified organic suppliers.
First launched in Scotland in 2016, Organic Served Here is the only scheme of its kind in the UK, awarding restaurants stars on the basis of the percentage of organic ingredients they serve, from one star all the way up to five stars. One of the key aims of the scheme is to shorten the supply chain from field to plate with dedicated support from organic experts.
Peter Melchett, policy director for the Soil Association, says, “Organic Served Here is a fantastic new way for restaurants and cafes to, show their customers how much they really care about quality ingredients. Demand for organic is on the rise and it has never been easier to serve organic, thanks to the huge range of top-notch certified produce available, from meat and vegetables to essentials like flour, milk and just about everything else you can imagine. What’s more, organic food is produced to exceptionally high standards of care for the environment and animal welfare. So it’s good for business, for customers, for animals and for the world around us.”
Organic Served Here award-holders have access to a range of support and benefits: dedicated support from Soil Association Certification organic specialists; access to a network of top-quality organic suppliers via a directory and networking events; opportunities to learn first-hand about where ingredients come from with training and farm visits; listing and promotion as an Organic Served Here award-holder; promotion to the Soil Association’s network of members and supporters, and opportunities to be featured in national press. All restaurants, cafes and eateries that achieve the award are rigorously audited by Soil Association Certification experts to verify the percentage of their food from certified organic farmers, growers and processors.
Understanding and knowledge
According to Alison Muirhead, business development manager of the Soil Association, the market for organic produce has grown substantially in the last three years. “Its been been steady growth. People are looking for organic in all sets of settings, so it feels like quite a natural thing to extend to when eating out of home. In terms of signposting, the award can only help people with understanding and also knowledge of where to buy organic,” she says.
So, why will this initiative gain more traction now? “There is a general appetite for it,” says Muirhead. “Health is on everyone’s minds, it seems, and organic sits well with that. People just want transparency from their food today. Food, and that trust and reliability is inherit in organic food certification and if we can pair this award with good messaging to help consumers really understand what this means, hopefully that will really help address general concerns around food.”
Commenting on the award, Neil Forbes, chef director at Edinburgh’s prestigious Cafe St Honoré, the first restaurant holding the Organic Served Here three-star award (for serving 50 – 75% organic), say,: “Good food starts even before the seed is planted, with our soil quality determining the quality of the food we eat. This award encourages everyone who prepares and sells food to think about that quality. So let’s all grow, cook, eat and learn together, and be part of a future of better food for all.”
Grierson’s Organic, a traditional family farm in Perthshire, Scotland, supplies organic meat to Café St Honoré. The farm’s Sascha Grierson says, “More people than ever are eating organic, but it is availability, rather than price, which is the overriding obstacle to eating more of it. The Organic Served Here scheme makes organic visible on a much wider scale than ever before, and demonstrates to customers that restaurants are proud of the provenance of their ingredients, and that they are committed to shortening the journey from plough to plate.”
Traceability and health
Muirhead believes there will be “broad appeal” in terms of engagement for the award across the UK’s foodservice sector. “The first two awards we have given have been at opposite ends of the scale [in the industry] but organic messaging is absolutely essential for both of them. This spans broadly how people eat. Equally, the award could work at somewhere such as Pret a Manger or one of the larger chains. Pret already serves organic milk and coffee – even McDonald’s has organic milk – so it’s something where all shapes and sizes can address that traceability and health piece,” she says.
The Soil Association is convinced that the movement towards organic is not just a fad or passing trend either. “I think this will remain a force,” says Muirhead. “Organic address the environment, animal welfare and traceability. It addresses good food. I think these things will remain front of mind for consumers, but it’s important for us to continue to draw attention to these places that are making huge efforts and drawing a whole community together. We talk to businesses right from the field through to the fork so its largely in our hands and those that are linked to this new scheme to talk about the whole organic story and really get their customers to understand and commit in some small way, shape of form.”
The subject of food waste is also vitally important to the Soil Association, who are behind the Sustainable Food Cities campaign. “It’s about encouraging entire cities to commit to things like less waste, lessoning our carbon footprint in general, better foods and really shortening the supply chain. It’s addressing food at a city-wide level and improving access to good food. We’re trying to join the dots in all aspects of food,” says Muirhead.
The Soil Association has also thrown its weight behind the so-called ‘ugly food’ movement, where imperfect fruit and vegetables, not previously used to fitting grocery stores’ rigid cosmetic standards, are being increasingly celebrated. “I think ‘ugly veg’ has been hugely important for opening people’s eyes,” says Muirhead. “I think real awareness is growing enormously. It’s immensely important. It’s certainly something that we care about. We’re wholeheartedly behind using food effectively and efficiently.”
But can misshapen produce still be a good fit for a fine-dining restaurant, for example, where there is just as much emphasis on flavour as there is on the aesthetic and creating the beautiful dish? “I don’t underestimate the creativity of chefs. I think they have incredibly transformative powers,” laughs Muirhead. “Equally, it’s a real selling point. People are interested in food being used appropriately. Turning an ugly veg into a beautiful salad? I think that’s a really positive thing,” says Muirhead.
Organic Served Here is a new award from the Soil Association for restaurants, cafes and eateries that commit to sourcing organic food for their menus. All restaurants that achieved the award are rigorously audited to ensure that they buy a set percentage of their food from certified organic producers. For more information about the Organic Served Here award, visit soilassociation.org/organicservedhere
The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by farmers, scientists, doctors and nutritionists to promote the connection between the health of the soil, food, animals, people and the environment. Today the Soil Association is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. Its chief executive is Helen Browning, and chair of trustees is Dennis Overton. Visit: soilassociation.org.