‘We have a duty to nudge the nation’: Morag Freathy spills the beans on what drives Eurest in today’s market

From defining our brand purpose to the introduction of carbon labelling, a lot has happened since the Managing Director of Business and Industry of our parent group Compass Group UK & Ireland, Morag Freathy, joined the team in 2017.

In a recent interview with The Caterer, Morag dished out how a focus on food, sustainability and wellbeing has led to growth and a culture to be proud of – scroll down to see what she said.

How has Eurest repositioned since 2021?

When I came back to Eurest in 2017 and took on the role of managing director, we were losing sight of what our purpose was from a food
standpoint. Our purpose that we're anchored on now is to make people just that little bit happier in the workplace every day.

We're also focused on the fact that food is not just about fuel. We know from our Global Eating at Work survey that where there's an F&B facility in the workplace, it's seen as the number two benefit after flexible working.

What have been the main achievements in the business in the past 12 months?

I have a strapline: we have a duty to nudge the nation. This means we can help people over time make the right choices for the planet and for future generations. Fifty-three per cent of our menu is plant-based, we've reduced the meat in our top 12 meals by 40% and, just in the last year, we've taken 600,000kg of CO2 out of our emissions.

We're seeing 10% net growth every year and we won £23m of new business last year. The growth is also good for the team because it creates careers, which is super-important.

That's significant growth. Was that your best year to date for new contract wins?

We've done quite well for a few years in a row. The business and industry sector of Compass has grown substantially in the last year – by 10% – and I anticipate double-digit percentage growth in the financial year ahead. We've won a couple of large clients this year – Harwell Science and Innovation Campus and the Westworks, so I expect to continue to grow further.

Tell us more about Eurest's work with nutritionists and scientists at Oxford University

At the start of the pandemic, we hooked up with Oxford University around how we could nudge consumers to choose more sustainable meals. We launched the Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) labelling project, which colour-codes dishes from A to E, where A is more sustainable and E is the least – a bit like the calorie labelling we all recognise.

We trialled this at 15 client sites that remained operational throughout the pandemic and saw success in informing consumer nudges, but also empowering our chefs to reformulate recipes with the data.

We then rolled it out across our B&I portfolio in late 2021. We are now switching to Foodsteps carbon labelling, which will be used across Compass Group UK & Ireland.


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What difference has it made?

It is so important to nudge people's behaviour. You can't tell consumers they can't have certain things, rather you've got to try and get them to choose the right things.

The other bit of science that comes with it is the different nudging techniques. If you work hard at making your plant-forward food look beautiful on the counters, people are drawn to it. If you put your plant-forward food at the front of the counter, it'll be the first thing customers see and they're more likely to choose it.

When you changed the food strategy, what did you do to secure buy-in from the wider Eurest team? Did it take a change of mindset from your chefs?

Our chefs and teams have been surprised at the fact that some dishes were LEAP labelled as red, so there was an education piece there. We also had meetings where we talked about carbon emissions. There is a lot of focus on aviation, but the reality is 10% of carbon emissions are created by global food waste and only 2% are created by aviation.

Sharing some of those statistics made the chefs think: 'OK, I need to sort food waste and we need to move away from the red LEAP labelling.' People began to feel they had a duty not to have red labels on their menus, so they started to nudge towards ambers and yellows.

What I've learned in my time is that people are motivated by different purposes, duties and benefits. Some people in our team will reduce food waste to save costs for clients and for the business, but some see it as our duty to reduce carbon emissions for the planet and for future generations, and that's a real motivator.

fresh salads being served for warehouse catering

Do you still see the high street as competition or does flexible working discourage employees from leaving the building now?

What we've found over the past year is an improvement in terms of how our consumers are seeing value in the workplace. Consumers on the high street have seen significant price increases, whereas in the workplace there's a realisation that it can deliver really great value. Where else can you get a main course for under a fiver that is a proper, nutritious meal?

We have quite a lot of manufacturing clients who were at work during the pandemic, but from an office point of view, we're definitely seeing a return. Mondays and Fridays have been slower to recover, but spend on busy midweek days is higher as customers are tending to treat themselves more when they are in the workplace.

How do you signpost people to make the healthier choice?

People who want healthy food will only use your facility if they get what they want. Employees who go to the gym in the morning and then come into work are going to want something that complements the exercise they've just done, so that's important to take on board. Some of our clients will also subsidise healthy options; one, JLR, is subsiding our ‘Good Stuff' range to support healthy eating among its staff. As a result, we have seen up to 40% increase in uptake of healthy meals.

There have been some new entrants into the B&I market in the past year. Do you still come up against the same names when tendering or is there a noticeable change?

There are some long-standing, respected businesses out there that we're all familiar with and we compete with each other. There are a few new start-ups too, but they tend to be a little bit more niche, but we've all got our part to play. We're understanding from employers that F&B plays a fundamental part in attracting and retaining employees, more so than ever, so we're seeing more clients wanting to open up new facilities where they didn't have them before, or they are investing in facilities because they want to have different uses out of the F&B space, so that's making it quite a busy market.

You are vocal about your commitment to sustainability – what checks do you do with your suppliers to ensure their commitment matches yours?

We have made a commitment on scopes one, two and three. It is unusual for businesses in our industry to commit to scope three because that is a huge percentage of our total carbon emissions. The Foodbuy team work very closely with our suppliers to make sure they're on the same journey. We've done some great work on scope one and two, so most of our fleet is electric and over 80% of the food we buy is produced in the UK.

You've done a lot of work on waste, but is there still more to do?

We've reduced our food waste 19% year-on-year. We know that because we measure it on a daily and weekly basis, but there's always more we can do. We are aiming to reduce food waste by a further 30% in the next 18 months and that involves understanding what products we're wasting and planning accordingly.

A bit about brilliant Morag

Morag Freathy is a seasoned professional with a diverse background in the hospitality and food service industry.

Currently serving as the Managing Director of Business and Industry at Compass Group UK & Ireland, she’s held various leadership positions within the company, including Managing Director of Eurest UK and Managing Director of Growth Markets. With extensive experience in strategic roles, Morag has also worked with big brands such as Prezzo and Pizza Hut.

Freathy won the Foodservice Caterer Award at the 2023 Cateys and,
although she says she was ‘hugely humbled and flattered’, she credits
the team for the recognition.

"Eurest has come on an interesting journey, from lacking a purpose and direction and not delivering as good a job as we could have to where we are today,’ she says. ‘The Cateys are all verified by proof points and that's a reflection of the journey Eurest has been on."

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