InterContinental Hotels Group believes AI technology can help its properties reduce food waste by one third

21 June, 2019

Sustainability is increasingly being recognised as a key attribute within commercial strategies, but it is widely also a potential area for significant cost savings to a business, and technology is playing an important role in bringing this all to fruition.

From the removal of unnecessary plastic packaging from produce in supermarkets, the removal of plastic straws in restaurants and bars, both personally and within the business space, we are increasingly aware of the need to reduce waste and many global hotel brands and working to manage their waste more effectively.

One example is InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) which as part of a long-term commitment to minimise waste across all of its hotel estate and operations uses its IHG Green Engage online sustainability programme to recommend ways for IHG branded hotels worldwide to manage their waste more effectively. This includes guidance on how hotels can handle, store, recycle and dispose of waste both on and off-site, to minimise environmental impact and costs.

Technology is playing an important role. Many airports around the world are now using smart bins which monitor their rubbish content and can advise cleaning teams when they require emptying. This also monitors the waste and can provide valuable data on improving the cleanliness of terminals and the efficiency of cleaning programmes.

But, alongside paper, plastics and glass etc, food waste itself is a major global issue, and one that kitchens around the world are struggling with. As consumers we are enticed by supermarket BOGOF (buy one, get one free) like offers and can often end up purchasing more than we need and throwing unused food away. But, it is as much an issue in commercial catering.

"Food waste is a global issue, and one that kitchens around the world are struggling with," says Marc Zornes, founder and CEO of Winnow Solutions, a tech company which launched in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2016, specialising in food waste management.

For busy restaurants and hotels without visibility into what is being thrown away, kitchens are wasting far more food than they think and that is literally throwing money in the bin and an area therefore that businesses can reduce costs while delivering a sustainability solution.

IHG has now entered into a partnership with technology company Winnow to help its hotels automatically track, measure and reduce food waste for more sustainable and efficient restaurant and bar operations. Using Winnow's Vision AI enabled technology, it believes its hotels could achieve a 30% reduction in food waste.

Through the use of an intelligent camera, smart scales and AI-based smart metre technology, Winnow Vision analyses ingredients during food preparation, as well as plates returned to the kitchen, to assess which food items are most wasted and in what quantities. This builds up a bank of data which in turn informs buying decisions, shapes menus and hones food preparation techniques.

The technology has been installed in seven IHG hotels in its Europe, Middle East, Asia & Africa (EMEAA) region, with installation due in a further 30 properties in the coming months. One hotel already benefitting from this approach is InterContinental Fujairah Resort, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). IHG says that In just six months, the resort has been able to reduce food waste by more than 50%.

Alongside the 37 current and confirmed deployments, a further 60 more hotels in the EMEAA region have expressed their interest in signing up to the technology, says IHG and it is currently exploring rollout to its other two regions - the Americas and Greater China.

"Our partnership with Winnow will help our hotels be smarter and savvier in their approach to creating compelling menus that result in less waste," says Kenneth Macpherson, chief executive officer, EMEAA, at IHG.

Using technology to better understand food waste and create more efficient menus could provide significant benefits across the hospitality and travel industries - both on the ground and in the air. And with the latter more efficiency comes with reduced weights being loaded onto aircraft and that benefits us all.