On May 18, the day ‘Mercabarna with the communities’ was held; a half-day activity in which the current situation of the sector was analyzed, and the demands of sustainability in relation to nutrition, educational projects, regulations, purchasing policies and regarding its economic viability were discussed. An event held with full capacity, where professionals from the operating companies, suppliers and administration were able to share concerns and needs. Raimon Bagó, General Manager of SERHS Food, was one of the speakers.
Endorsed by the Foodservice commission of the Mercabarna Food Cluster, the event’s promoter, and with the support of Restauración Colectiva, as a specialist in the sector, for the organization and dissemination of the event, las week the “Mercabanar con las colectividades: cadena de valor hacia unos menús sostenibles y saludables” event took place; an activity in which 150 people signed up, all of them professionals from the RC operating companies and Mercabarna’s supplier firms. The objective, to bring the two groups closer together and to publicize and express concerns and needs of the collective catering sector.
The session was developed through two round tables and included, between one and the other, a brief visit to some spaces of the wholesale market such as the fruit area or the cooperatives.
“It is necessary for people to think and value how the menu arrives at their table every day”
After the welcome from Pablo Vilanova, director of Sustainability, Strategy and Innovation at Mercabarna, and the intervention of Sergio Gil, president of Fundación Restaurantes Sostenibles, who outlined a clear picture of how things are regarding sustainability, where we should evolve and how the restaurant industry can be involved in this paradigm shift, Raimon Bagó intervened as President of Acerco (Catalan Association of Collective Restoration Companies) and of the Foodservice Cluster of Catalonia.
Bagó offered some figures of the sector, especially highlighting and emphasizing that 10% of the citizens residing in Catalonia eat in a collective catering service daily. “There are thousands of meals a day, many of them served to vulnerable people (children, hospital patients, nursing homes…), which force us to be very professional, very responsible, demanding, and also very efficient”. The president of the Catalan employers’ association showed the strengths of the sector, highlighting about all, its resilience and demanding greater visibility and recognition, “it is necessary – he assured- that people know, think and value how the menu arrives at their table every day”. “We are a sector accustomed to suffering, that we weather almost any situation based on professionalism and adaptability, as has been shown in recent years with the issue of the pandemic, above all, but also with the problems of raw materials, transport, supplies, prices, etc.”.
Despite the positive tone of his intervention, “we have not come here to complain”, he did highlight the most serious problem that collective restoration suffers today, which is that of the exaggerated increase in prices… “increases that come to aggravate a situation already serious in itself, and dragged on for years, which keeps the sector without margin for much, since there is no way to pass on these increases”.
Healthy and sustainable menus… a long way to go, a long way to go
Under the genertic title ‘Nutrition, education, sustainability and health’, and moderated by Juanjo Jiménez, Director of Purchases of Aramark Spain, the following took part in the first-round table: Gemma Salvador (nutritionist dietitian of the General Subdirectorate oh Health Promotion. Agència of Public Health of Catalonia), Àngels Roca (general director of F. Roca), Pau López (director of Sustainable Food at Mercabarna) and Mariana Gasca (responsible for Sustainability at Mediterránea).
Gemma Salvador began by giving value to how much has been achieved “although there is still a long way to go”. With rigor, consensus, and a good alignment of all the parties involved, she assured, “it has been possible to advanced based on small changes. From the administration we have tried to contribute documents and research to support the projects of the companies. Recommendations that have taken hold over time and that are what have achieved that today, for example, 90% of school canteens are serving four or five pieces of fresh fruit a week for dessert, banishing industrial pastries and continuous sweets that were served a few years ago”. In this sense, Mariana Gasca emphasized communication and the educational projects that are carried out in many schools… “in the end”, she commented, “in matters related to nutrition, health habits, and sustainability, it is the children who are, in a certain way, educating parents by transferring what they learn in their centers”. Following the line of communication, Àngels Roca wanted to insist on the importance also of training and informing the directors of the schools “ because although it may seem that way to us, because of the environment in which we operate and the implication that we have, the message has not caught on yet… there are still many people to be convinced about the binomial food and health, and health and sustainability that, in the end, end up being indivisible concepts”.
In the end, and in summary, in order to have healthier and more sustainable school cafeterias, and therefore all kinds of communities, Gemma Salvador highlighted five points with which everyone agreed: more vegetable products, reduction of meat, reduction of plastic waste, control of food waste and, all of this, with the collaboration and participation of all parties (operators, suppliers, administration and also all the professionals who are working on the front line in the different services).
Pau López, on his part, insisted on the necessary involvement of all. “Neither Mercabarna as an institution nor wholesale market suppliers can turn a deaf ear to the issue of sustainability”. In fact, he continued, “Mercabarna is devoting a lot of effort and launching various projects and initiatives along these lines. From the very creation of a Sustainable Food Department, to the creation of the Foodback (a pioneer center in food exploitation), the Biomarket or the area of horticultural cooperatives, all our actions are carried out thinking of that paradigm shift that we all must form part”.
Making sustainability profitable
Finally, moderated by Enrique Ordóñez, Corporate Catering Manager at Grupo Quironsalud, the following took part in the second table: Albert Planas (Head of Purchasing and Logistincs at Serunion), Silvia Fillola (Director of Operations at Anna Ecológica – Grupo Veritas), Cristina Massot (Deputy Director General of Agrifood Industries and Quiality of the Department of Cliamte Action, Food and Rural Agenda) and Andrés González (manager of Colevisa).
In this second session, Cristina Massot intervened to comments on the general lines of the recently approved Green Public Procurement Action Plan for Catalonia 2022-2025, a plan approved with the aim of increasing, improving, and advancing in the application of environmental criteria in contracts so that the economic volume of the tenders that include these clauses is increased to 50% in the year 2025. Andrés González, on his part, highlighted that all the regulations that are in project of approved and the recommendations of the different administrations in the line of working and acting in a more sustainable and respectful way with the planet “represent new challenges for companies and also very exciting challenges for all professionals… what happens is that everything has a cost and has to be paid”. In the same sense, Albert Planas assured that the first thing to do “is to revalue the sector, to give it the importance is has and to allocate the necessary resources”. The two representatives of the companies celebrated the start of the conversation about the economic sustainability of the chain, from the point of view of economic efficiency and asked that the administrations work on the issue of the required criteria, keeping their feet on reality.
The table also began to debate on local and ecological products. In this sense, Silvia Fillola highlighted the great advantage for a supplier of “the security of annual planning and regularity, which only a community company can provide”.