How Morrison Healthcare is reducing food waste and saving money

From technology to upcycling, Morrison is hitting food waste from multiple angles.
Cauli Club menu offerings
Morrison Healthcare's Power Brands showcase one ingredient in multiple menu items. / Photos courtesy of Morrison

A year and a half into running Waste Not 2.0, Ohio Health's food costs went down by about $231,000, according to Lisa Roberson, Morrison Healthcare’s national director of wellness and sustainability.

Morrison, which runs foodservice at Ohio Health, currently has 370 hospitals onboarded to the food-waste reduction program. Waste Not 2.0’s mission is rooted in cutting carbon emissions as well as costs, said Roberson.

Morrison has a variety of sustainability initiatives, including efforts to menu more plant-based items and reduce single-use plastic, but in 2023, the company is focusing heavily on reengineering menus to cut food waste, Roberson says.

“How do we make sure we focus on serving more plants and serve healthier options that make sense, that are balanced to help promote mental health and healthy lifestyles?” she said.

Waste Not 2.0 provides Morrison—and other businesses run by its parent company, Compass Group—with the technology to monitor overproduction and adjust menus accordingly. In addition, Morrison has focused on establishing food recovery networks and developing menu options that use as much of an ingredient as possible.

When it comes to sustainability, cost can often be a barrier. While operators may see cost reduction down the line, there’s often investment required to launch and run these programs, said Roberson.

“While I wish all sustainability initiatives gave us the satisfaction of instant cost savings, the reality is that it’s a blend of both,” she said. “We have a little bit of cost investment and cost savings that seem to occur simultaneously when we’re going down this pathway. But I think that’s like anything in business, honestly.”

Here’s a look at how cost and sustainability intersect in Morrison’s efforts to reduce waste.

Leaning into tech

Compass Group initially launched the waste reduction program in 2015 under the name Waste Not. In 2022, the foodservice management company updated the program to be fully digital and to focus on avoidable waste rather than prep waste.

Employee using Waste Not 2.0 Waste Not 2.0 helps operators track overproduction waste. 

The program distinguishes between red waste, waste created by overproduction or quality issues, and green waste, which includes things such as trim and shells.

Over the past year and a half, Morrison has made it mandatory for its 300 hospitals with the highest food costs to use the program. While Roberson says the hospitals have made strides in reducing those costs, exact numbers are hard to pinpoint until the program is rolled out across all those hospitals.

Some have documented positive results, however. Ohio Health went into the program with the goal of increasing its recycling rate by 5% and diverting 50 tons of food from the landfill. Between June 2021 and Dec. 2022, the health system reduced its food waste by 27%, according to Roberson.

Another hospital, Southern Ocean in the Hackensack Meridian Health system, saw a 4-5% reduction in total food costs after starting the program.

“It’s pretty incredible where we’re seeing these differences made,” Roberson said. “Which is why we’re looking at all of the hospitals that have the highest food cost and just seeing where we can make a difference if we focus. If we spend our time and our concerted efforts with our culinary team focusing on reducing waste, how can that translate to savings?”

Cutting costs through upcycling

One example of Morrison’s menu engineering efforts is its popular breakfast casserole. When a team has unused portions of items such as scrambled eggs, biscuits and bacon, they’ll put a breakfast casserole on the menu to keep from wasting those ingredients.

At one hospital, a staff member noticed an excessive amount of tomato tops being wasted during prep. The team decided to use them to make fresh tomato soup.

In addition, Morrison encourages its clients to reduce waste through its recipe database, which highlights upcycled recipes.

If a chef is looking for a way to use leftover bread, for example, they can search the database for low-waste dishes with bread and find bread pudding recipes.

“For every pound of reused ingredient that we upcycle in a recipe, it represents like a $2.31 cost savings per pound of food,” Roberson said.

Power Brands and imperfect produce

Root-to stem cooking, which seeks to use produce in its entirety, is another piece of the puzzle.

Morrison takes a root-to-stem approach in its Power Brands, concepts that create multiple menu items from a single ingredient, such as beets or cauliflower.

The five Power Brands are Beet Root, Carrot Greens, On the Vine, Cauli Club and Silver Kings, and each are offered when that particular item is in season. 

Beet Root, for example, menus items like a citrus and beet grain salad, beet and goat cheese salad, and a beet hummus and falafel "naan-wich."

A salad offered at Beet Root. Morrison's Power Brands utilize a root-to-stem cooking approach. 

According to Roberson, the concepts have been a success—with over 60,000 cafe transactions in 2022. Currently, more than 90% of Morrison’s hospitals feature at least one of the five concepts.

And the Power Brands have gotten some outside recognition, winning the Business Intelligence sustainability product of the year award for 2022.

"We’re gonna serve food, no matter what. We might as well serve it responsibly. And so that’s what I love about these type of concepts,” she said.

Another way Morrison is reducing food waste is by purchasing food through Compass’ Imperfectly Delicious Produce program. Since 2015, the Compass initiative has rescued over 13 million pounds of produce, according to Roberson.

Imperfectly delicious produce program Imperfect produce is food with blemishes or imperfections that make it difficult to sell. 

The foodservice provider purchases produce that doesn’t meet a uniform size or broken pieces of vegetables that can’t be sold to grocery stores. Morrison will often process these ‘imperfect’ ingredients into recipes where the size of the item doesn’t matter, such as soup.

While this can present a cost savings, as imperfect items may be marked down, it still follows “the rules of seasonality,” said Roberson.

Addressing overproduction

Some overproduction is unavoidable—and Morrison doesn’t want that food to go uneaten. So, another element of its waste reduction efforts is food recovery programs.

Morrison connected Hartford Healthcare in Connecticut with one of its partners in the area to donate leftover food to a men’s group.

In addition, Roberson notes that all of Morrison’s operators are educated on food donation.

“We may not see a reduction in cost of running a sustainability program in this instance, but as we look at how resourceful we are with the money that we spend for food, especially in our clients communities and in the hospitals that we run, we are making sure we reinvest that food, and pay attention to the money that we’re spending by reinvesting it into the communities that we serve,” she said.



More from our partners