On Nov. 12, the third annual F&B Summit brought together influential figures from the restaurant, agriculture, and hospitality sectors for discussions on the role of sustainability in the future.
Keynote speakers Mark Ocampo, Hindy Weber, Michael Zeimer, and Eric Dee provided in-depth perspectives from their respective fields, challenging people inside and outside the industry to think critically and go beyond treating sustainability as a trend.
FARMERS AND PRODUCERS
WHAT IS TRUE SUSTAINABILITY?
“Sustainability is to truly work on something,” says Mark Ocampo, co-founder of bean-to-bar company Auro Chocolate. Ocampo, no stranger to the plight of cacao farmers, identified three major problems in cacao farming: low prices, limited knowledge, and technology. How has Auro responded to this?
Through education, higher income, and a guaranteed market, farmers are given opportunities that can sustain them. “It’s one thing to say to pay farmers higher, and another thing to continuously support them,” explains Ocampo.
Only businesses that leave a notable and lasting impact and reach the roots of communities will thrive and survive.
At Auro, farmers are partners. They aren’t simply employed to till the land or harvest the beans—they’re landowners as well. Auro aims to highlight micro-origins and the different farming communities in the country. Davao-based farmer Mang Jose, one of their partner farmers, has been recognized in the recent Salon Du Chocolat in Paris for growing one of the best beans in the world. As Ocampo puts it, Mang Jose has become an inspiration to the whole farming community, encouraging more farmers to remain passionate about farming despite the adversities tied to it.
Given the fact that some businesses use sustainability as a marketing tool, it was reassuring to hear Ocampo say that only businesses that leave a notable and lasting impact and reach the roots of communities will thrive and survive.
THE CASE FOR ORGANIC FARMING
When Holy Carabao Farms co-founder Hindy Weber decided that only the most nutritious food would be served to her family, she thought, “Where do I find organic food in the city?”
For Kai Farms’ Karla Delgado, organic farming is all about healing the body, mind, and spirit while working in harmony with nature.
Weber, an advocate of clean and healthy food, strongly believes that healthy soil is the cornerstone of life. A healthy planet equates to healthy soil, which then means healthy food. She was also quick to point out that, “the Earth is alive but it is sick, and so are we,” before discussing ways to improve the soil through composting, food forests, and permaculture.
Like Weber, Jam Melchor of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement is also an advocate of slow food. This movement is focused on traceability and how food is harvested, processed, and produced. Natural, organic, and chemical-free food are what Gio Espital of Elements of Tomorrow and Karla Delgado of Kai Farms strongly adhere to as well.
“Everything we do comes from the earth, and goes back to the earth,” says Espital.
For Delgado, organic farming is all about healing the body, mind, and spirit while working in harmony with nature. The seeds have developed a certain adaptation over centuries of growing in soil—and this is something that laboratories cannot replicate.
WHOM SHOULD WE SUPPORT?
“Choose who you support with your money,” says Delgado. As Melchor echoes, one must know their role in the food chain, whether as a consumer or a producer, and then work out a way on how to contribute from there.
For the farmers and producers panelists, going local is always the best choice. With the recent approval and celebration of the first Filipino Food Month, a momentous recognition for gastronomy in the Philippines, local cuisine and produce should be given the attention they deserve. All that’s left to do is work towards sustainability.
“What Filipinos would think is not if food is organic, but if there’s anything to eat at all or if it’s affordable. That’s how we see that we have a broken system. In a country like the Philippines, we have no right to waste food.”
“All the young people are moving to the cities because they don’t want to be farmers,” Patrick Renucci of Chen Yi Agventures says.
Most people dismiss the idea of a career in agriculture due to the stigma that it’s all about dirty and tedious work that doesn’t even pay enough. But Renucci points out the country’s rice crisis is due to the expense of modern farming, particularly how it’s even more costly than importing. Despite the Philippines’ heavy reliance on rice imports, Renucci believes it’s still possible for Filipinos to become self-sufficient again.
The panel discussion ended with Melchor talking about the sad reality of the country’s farming and production industry, a difficult truth that people must first grasp in order to come up with ways to address it: “What Filipinos would think is not if food is organic, but if there’s anything to eat at all or if it’s affordable. That’s how we see that we have a broken system. In a country like the Philippines, we have no right to waste food.”
HOSPITALITY AND TOURISM
THE FUTURE OF HOSPITALITY
“Let your people become creative and be part of the journey you want to do,” says Michael Zeimer of City of Dreams Manila on their sustainability initiatives.
“Sustainability is something we all have to feel responsible for,” says Anna Vergara of Sheraton Manila amid the fact that guests still want luxury.
The hospitality industry is in need of sustainable developments that will improve overall operations while safeguarding the environment from the impact brought by progress. One of City of Dreams’ projects that openly involves the people surrounding them, particularly their employees, is their International Housekeeping Day where sustainable garments are made from materials such as bathroom slippers and bottle caps. Another project is their “Soap for Hope,” a project where soap bars are collected and turned into fully recycled ones that are given to communities who need them.
Stanley Lo of Dusit Thani Manila says, “Luxury is no longer indulgence but experience.”
“Sustainability is something we all have to feel responsible for,” says Anna Vergara of Sheraton Manila amid the fact that guests still want luxury. Despite that, Vanessa Suatengco of Diamond Hotel notes that sustainability can still be integrated into a luxurious environment in the form of food waste reduction and energy consumption.
As The Peninsula Manila’s Jose Jimenez puts it, the guest has to want it as well. Sustainability is a collaborative effort from all sectors, and that includes consumers. In the hotel industry, it pays to give guests the best experience they could get, but even more for the impact institutions such as they make. “Luxury is no longer indulgence but experience,” says Stanley Lo of Dusit Thani.
CHEFS AND RESTAURATEURS
THE LIFE CYCLE OF BUSINESS
Eric Dee of Foodee Global Concepts gave three points on how restaurant businesses can beat the odds: focus, consistency, and value.
First, a restaurant must have focus. What is the core of your business? It’s important to know a restaurant’s mission, vision, and goal so that there’s a clear direction of where the business is going. If goals are already established from the beginning, there is always something to look back to and as Dee says, “You know if you’re doing the right thing.” Aside from focusing on finances, which is what will obviously keep a business going, customer experience is just as vital. Dee points out that the kind of service a customer receives is what will keep people coming back and looking for a restaurant by name.
“What moves me to work is the people who are showing up,” says chef Nicco Santos of The Standard Group.
Second, consistency in product and service. A restaurant can’t serve a dish today differently from how they did it yesterday. Being consistent will manage expectations. And finally, what will sustain a business is knowing the value of what it can offer. For instance, there’s a lot of value in a restaurant that can offer a dining experience where, at the end of the day, people feel like they left with more than what they paid for.
THE CORE OF RESTAURANT CULTURE
“A sustainable restaurant culture starts from the top and trickles down,” says Ryan Cruz of Mendokoro Ramenba and Ramen Yushoken.
For Cruz, being in an industry where a disconnect between guests and restaurant owners isn’t new, the customer isn’t always right. A relationship-based culture is what will sustain a business. As Cruz notes, it all boils down to what you do, what you reward, and what you don’t punish.
Al Galang of Sweet Ecstacy sees the restaurant industry as a way to not just sell but shape and educate people on food standards.
“What moves me to work is the people who are showing up,” says chef Nicco Santos. It pays to listen to what the consumers want. But more than listening, understanding what they need will enable a restaurant to act accordingly.
The issue of service charge also became a hot topic with Elbert Cuenca of The Steak Room Concepts seeing this as “a forced tip” but it should be up to the customer’s discernment if they should pay for it or not.
Lastly, Al Galang of Sweet Ecstacy sees the restaurant industry as a way to not just sell but shape and educate people on food standards. He urged people to opt for local food, not just because it’s from the country but simply because it’s the freshest and the best. Galang also believes that a sustainable restaurant industry is already in the works, as social media is doing its job in emphasizing how badly it is needed, and all that’s left is for people to do their part.
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