• March 21, 2024

Saving the planet… one sticky toffee pudding at a time

Saving the planet… one sticky toffee pudding at a time

Saving the planet… one sticky toffee pudding at a time 1024 683 micebook.

The Venues Collection recently became the first UK venue chain to remove dairy from all dessert menus, a move that is expected to save over 42 tonnes of CO2 on event menus alone in 2024.

The near identical dairy-free alternatives have been developed by Sam Morgan, Executive Head Chef of The Venues Collection and a micebook Power 50 Green Champion. Here he shares why sustainable food choices don’t have to compromise on taste…

We’re all aware of the impact our choices have on the environment, and it’s our responsibility to make choices that are kinder to our planet. But there’s a common misconception that opting for sustainable food choices means compromising on taste and quality. It doesn’t have to be that way, in fact, low-carbon options can be just as delicious, if not more so.

We’ve embarked on a journey to reduce our carbon footprint while keeping the taste and quality of the meals we serve intact. Since introducing carbon labelling across all our venues and event menus, we’ve discovered that simple menu swaps can make a huge difference, not just for us and the events we host but for the planet too.

Our carbon labelling system calculates the emissions of greenhouse gases, presented as kg carbon dioxide equivalents (kg CO2e). It breaks down these calculations based on every stage of food production through life cycle assessments (LCAs). From farm to fork, it gives us the lowdown on our dishes. Some dishes, like our parsnip & onion bhaji, boast impressively low carbon emissions. Others, like the indulgent rib-eye steak, might be on the higher side. But, for those who want to tread the middle ground, options like the ChalkStream trout (MCS rated 1) are the perfect choice.

No food is off-limits. We’ve colour-coded our menu items and set up an easy-to-understand scale. This way event organisers and delegates can take a quick glance and see where each item sits on the carbon emissions scale. Just as we balance ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food in a healthy diet, this approach allows everyone to eat carbon-consciously without missing out on flavour when planning their events or dining with us.

Since introducing carbon labelling we’ve been able to see exactly which dishes need to be tweaked. One of our most popular meal choices was the classic beefburger; it was a favourite among our guests, and we didn’t want to take it away. Instead, this spring, I introduced a more sustainable alternative – the chicken burger. We believed in education and providing alternatives rather than banning beloved dishes. Sales are now equally split between the classic beefburger and the chicken burger, having a significantly positive impact on our carbon emissions. Just by offering this simple swap, we’ve managed to reduce our carbon footprint (and that of our clients’ events) while continuing to offer a delicious favourite.

We also decided to challenge the preference for traditional rib-eye steak, a staple for many of our delegates and guests. We introduced chicken and pork steaks as alternatives, and these alternatives are now preferred by two-thirds of our diners who would have otherwise opted for the traditional steak.

The sticky toffee pudding (STP) is a classic dessert and our best seller, but dairy production for desserts like this has a significant carbon footprint. We’ve made the shift to dairy-free versions of all our classic desserts in our restaurants and this change will be rolled out across our conference and event menus from January 2024. Our new ‘STP’ is actually vegan, but you’d never know because it tastes exactly the same as the original recipe. But in making this change we are saving two thirds of the carbon of the regular version (0.2kg CO2 per portion compared to 0.6kg CO2) which means across all our venues we predict to save 1.9 tonnes of carbon over the next six months with this pudding alone.

Changing all our desserts to be non-dairy is a bold move, but one that I really wanted to achieve across all our venues. This change will half the carbon emissions across our desserts and is predicted to save over 42 tonnes of CO2 on our event menus alone over the next year. This saving is the equivalent of 12 return flights from Heathrow to Sydney, which some may see as a small dent in the CO2 that we all produce, but every small effort adds up and invisible changes like these can make a difference without a huge impact to what we eat.

Sustainable food choices don’t have to be a compromise. By opting for alternatives, educating ourselves and our guests, and making informed decisions, we can create events that are not only unforgettable but also environmentally friendly.



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