Catering at WUR: towards a positive contribution for people, animals and the planet

Healthy, sustainable and inclusive. That's how the products and services of WUR's four new Food & Beverage service providers should be recognised. Contract manager Marcha Sperna Weiland talks about this vision and what exactly we can expect from the caterers. ‘We’ve already made great strides, but we still have lots to do!’

You may have already seen them somewhere on campus, with your lunchtime sandwich or your hot meal: the products that demonstrate WUR’s vision on Food & Beverage. Like the cappuccino with oat milk that you can get at some of the vending machines, which contributes to the protein transition. Or the vegan croissants you can buy in the Grand Café, which are no longer made with butter. Or, something completely different, Orbisk, an automated food waste monitor. Using a scale and a smart camera, caterers record what quantities and types of food are thrown away. With this information, they can fine-tune their offerings to prevent food waste.

First in a series

This article is the first in a series on catering at WUR. In subsequent articles, we will show how each principle from the Food & Beverage vision is translated in practice into different food and beverage offerings.

Healthy, sustainable and inclusive

The above examples are just a selection of the first visible results of a series of new contracts signed in recent years. There are four to be precise: in 2021, caterer OSP Vermaat started catering in Impulse, a year later Hutten started catering in Omnia, and since this academic year Compass provides the catering in the restaurants in the education buildings (see boxes). And last but not least, from July 2023, supplier MAAS will be responsible for all 240 coffee machines in the WUR buildings. Central to all these contracts is WUR's vision on Food & Beverage. The food and beverage offerings must be healthy, sustainable and inclusive. These rather abstract concepts are elaborated on the basis of eight principles: healthy and vital, protein transition, food waste, seasonal, fresh and regional, sustainable operations, packaging-conscious, innovative and inclusion as a core value.

Partnership between WUR and caterer

In the tender process, we asked directly for a concrete implementation of the above principles. Marcha explains: 'We asked caterers to indicate what their services would look like according to our vision. What can they offer? What does the assortment look like? What is the pricing?' We asked not only about supply and concepts, but also about their willingness to cooperate with WUR. 'Because we were looking for a real partnership, where caterers and WUR work together and make the vision ever more concrete.' So in the end, OSP Vermaat, Hutten, Maas and Compass were chosen, and are now enthusiastically getting down to work.

Measurement is the key

Marcha emphasises that each caterer is currently working hard on the concrete shaping of these principles. 'We’ve made clear agreements on this. About what they are going to do and how they are going to measure it. The measurement is based on a number of detailed indicators. Consider, for example, the desired ratio of vegetarian to non-vegetarian, and the salt and fat content of the products on offer. We are currently measuring whether we have already taken steps in the area of healthy food and what caterers can improve. News on a solution for single-use plastics will also follow within a month.' Marcha does note, however, that it will take time before caterers can fully comply with the vision.

Finding the right balance

Clearly, there is a lot involved in catering. Clear communication by the caterers and by WUR is a requirement to include people in the choices in the area of health, sustainability and inclusion. And to explain the selling prices. Marcha clarifies this: ‘The caterers on campus set their own prices. The condition, however, is that they make sure they offer a range that fits everyone's budget. That’s why the assortment in Forum and Orion has recently been supplemented with attractively priced loose bread and spreads.' WUR explicitly asks the caterers to implement its Food & Beverage wishes. And this sometimes creates an area of tension between supplying a healthy, sustainable and varied range on the one hand and a range that suits everyone's wallet on the other hand. Finding the right balance here is an ongoing process.

In the future, we expect a great deal from the caterers. Scientists and students will be involved in the catering facilities, which will then function as a Living Lab. We are happy to receive suggestions and tips for research assignments and experiments, as catering ultimately concerns us all, from caterer to student, scientist and employee.

OSP Vermaat's catering at Impulse

'Our focus is on combating food waste. Especially at meetings & events, there’s still work to do. We automatically measure and identify what kind of food is thrown away and in what quantity. This gives us more insight into where things can be improved.'

Hutten's catering in Omnia

'In our Faculty Novum restaurant, we aim for less meat, dairy and eggs, and more vegetables and legumes, nuts, fruits and whole grains. Here, we aren’t looking to dictate what people eat, but we want to show them how tasty a more plant-based menu is and let them give it a try.'

Compass' catering in Forum, Orion, Aurora, Leeuwenborch and Atlas

'We are proud that as a new caterer from four different teams, we form one cohesive team. We strive for an inclusive culture in the team, where everyone feels welcome and can be themselves. We collaborate with JOPS (WUR's labour participation team), and in the near future, we want to offer a suitable environment and guidance to more employees with a disability or distance from the labour market.’

Maas - hot beverage machines

'We are proud that 30% of the machines use oat milk, which saves 75% CO2 emissions compared to cow's milk. Our goal is to have a completely emission-free supply and distribution of our products by 2024.'