Learning lessons to handle credit crunch

The credit crunch is on everyone's lips at the moment - not least at the HTA's impressive catering conference in Bromsgrove last week (see p5). And it is from the lean catering industry that hortculture can learn how to cut its cloth to keep profitability up.

Chefs are taking on board Gordon Brown's plea to cut food wastage and are tapping into local, seasonal and homegrown trends to cut costs caused by worldwide population increases, thus putting pressure on natural resources.

Searcy chief executive Duncan Ackery, who runs the restaurants at the Tate art galleries, Barbican, Royal Opera House, Bath Pump Rooms and London's Gherkin, says his catering operations are already cutting meal portions. "It's about being clever with your menus - value engineering and looking at your cuts. Fish has gone up 35 per cent and meat nearly as much, and the price for 1kg of rice is £5.50, which is astonishing. Fruit and veg are 20 per cent up, at least. So we're looking at tougher portion control and less wastage."

Horticulture can learn from this. And the industry needs to as well - and fast - because after last week's news that leading garden designer Trevor Tooth's garden building company had gone into liquidation, the industry is bracing itself for recession (HW, 10 July). And the house-building slump will force landscape companies to crash out of business or lay off staff, fears BALI director Neil Huck (see p3).

Even charities are feeling the pinch, including the FAITH centre in north London, where falling donations to the Livabilty charity has forced the threat of closure unless Haringey Council steps in.

The collapse of the housing market is to blame. When writing the preview of the Kildare Growers Show, which opens next week in Ireland, there was widespread gloom in the Irish horticulture industry. The Irish economy had flown too close to the sun - the Celtic tiger is dead.

But the UK will not crash as Ireland has done because it has not risen so fast. And much of the industry is built on firm foundations.

But the horticulture industry would still do well to think about what caterers are doing in these tough times.

Matthew Appleby, deputy editor, Email: matthew.appleby@haymarket.com

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