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ABPCO members gather to debate a sustainable food future

ABPCO PCO and partner members gathered at Cheltenham Racecourse last week to discuss the importance of food in association conference planning.

The event, which was hosted by ABPCO Preferred Partner Lime Venue Portfolio at their Jockey Club Venue – Cheltenham Racecourse - was led by their Regional Executive Chef, Tom Parry, who started by focusing on the fact that; “Events have an ability to influence a large number of people and drive change in eating habits and individual perceptions of food. 

Cooking is powerful and transformative and through the engagement of chefs alongside organisers it can impact the way people choose to nourish themselves - not just at the event but through to the rest of their life.  The reality is that event chefs should be socially engaged and conscious of their responsibility to the delegates and the environment, which means they are a key part in the process of making events and society more sustainable.”  

The round table event focused on the responsibility organisers face when planning events and the importance of the relationship between organiser and venue catering teams.  

Key highlights of the discussion included:
·       The need to genuinely understand attendee numbers and demographics and to use historic data to order food based on realistic figures and requirements.  The discussion went on to say that trust between organiser and chef is vital in the ongoing need to reduce waste – organisers need to trust in the chef’s ability to cook the right amount but equally chefs need to trust that they are given accurate figures.
·       A deep desire for greater communication – starting with PCOs including questions about food sustainability, waste and wellbeing as part of their RFPs.  Such information can then eventually be a part of the delegate communication process, via apps, websites, registration and other relevant channels.
·       Understanding the food journey and true source of a menu can help establish truly sustainable event catering options.  Though there has been a steep rise in vegan menu options it was agreed that everyone needs to understand where food is coming from.  A meat option from a local farm for example could be far more sustainable than meat free alternatives shipped in from the other side of the world, therefore a full understanding of the supply chain is vital.  Local foods also provide a sense of “place” and “location”, which adds to the experience for non-local delegates.
·       Detail and information from chefs and catering teams lie at the heart of a successful food partnership in events.  PCOs need detail to be able to make informed decisions and choose options that reflect the needs of their delegates as well as their ethos.  A knowledgeable venue sales team with in-depth understanding of menu options is ideal.  Failing that the ability to source the information from a reactive and willing catering team is a must.  

ABPCO executive director Heather Lishman commented:  “Ultimately, the discussion revealed the need for everyone on the event food chain to work in partnership and see delegate catering as a culture not just a source of sustenance.  Health and wellbeing, brain food, sustainable choices, flexitarianism – these are all words we know and recognise as event organisers.  The next step though is to ensure they become a part of all our conversations.  Food at events has moved on, chefs are more creative than ever, and we all need to keep pace to ensure we are delivering the best possible experience for our delegates.”

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