Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo is one of the UK’s largest zoos, with nearly 2 million visitors each year. The Zoo’s emphasis on conservation is echoed in operations across the Zoo. Ensuring the food offered to staff and visitors reflects the ethos and values of the zoo falls to Tomas Jelinek, Food and Beverage Manager. Here’s what Tomas has to say about Chester Zoo’s Food for Life Served Here journey so far.

Key facts

Award: Bronze (since May 2018)

Meals served: 1000+ dishes a day

Interested in becoming Food For Life Served Here certified? Enrol today.

What was the original motivation for making a Food for Life Served Here application?
We wanted recognition and accreditation to show we care about the food we serve our customers. We have a responsibility to them, given the number of children who eat our food.  We felt that the Soil Association’s Food for Life Served Here award fits with our ethos and values around quality, animal welfare and environmental issues.

How did you find the process of gaining the award?
We were passionate about getting the award and we were surprised at the length of time it took from application to award.  We realised we could have applied earlier instead of waiting until we have every bit of information as there was a waiting period for inspection.  The inspection was a positive experience and it was great to have someone come onto site to look at the work we had done and changes that had been made.

" We have a responsibility to our customers, given the number of children who eat our food. We felt that the Food for Life Served Here award fits with our ethos and values." 

Tomas Jelinek, Food and Beverage Manager

Did you use the extra support offered by Food for Life? 
We bought a progress review and found it useful to have someone to come in before inspection to ensure we had everything in order. We would have found it useful to have the help earlier on especially around the menu checker. This is something we would highly recommend and would use next time.

Are you using new suppliers to help meet Food for Life Served Here Award standards?
As part of the work in achieving the award all our suppliers were reviewed and where once the zoo had 30 suppliers we have reduced down to 14. There is now a much closer relationship between the zoo and food suppliers. The emphasis is on local, fully traceable food.
We insisted all our suppliers met the Red Tractor standard as we ourselves do, this was a challenge for many of our suppliers, but something that is important to us. We also hold Marine Stewardship Council and RSPO accreditation.

Are you planning to upgrade or expand your Food for Life Served Here award?
Yes. We are working with our hotdog supplier to develop a range of products to meet the Food for Life Served Here standards. This means we will be able to cover all of our 13 kiosks across the site, so all of our food will be covered under the award for visitors and staff. We will be looking at achieving the silver award as we already meet the majority of the standards.

What impact has been awarded had on your organisation?
We now cook everything from scratch, including all soups and sauces, which has resulted in an increased engagement and motivation from staff who are passionate about the food we serve and happy to talk to customers about how we support local producers and what the FFLSH award means.   We are all excited to talk about our local, sustainable and seasonal food.
In terms of cost we have seen around a 10% increase in ingredient costs.  On the positive side of this we have been able to work closely with our supplier to use our own recipes, particularly with the sausages we buy which are now made just for us, with over 85% meat content and has been very popular especially in our Island Restaurant which has seen its busiest year so far.Working towards the award has prompted us to look at our policy on providing free drinking water. This is something we have always done but we didn’t promote it, customers had to ask at the counter.  We now promote our free drinking water widely, with stickers and we are increasing the number of drinking fountains we have across the site. This has had no impact on our sales of bottled water.

Are there any unexpected benefits?
Our customers are taking an increased interest in the food we serve and we have seen an increase in customer interaction with staff and the level of questions asked.  We have developed table talkers outlining the accreditations we hold and what that means for the food that is being served.  We will be working on marketing to customers and telling out food stories over the next few months as we can see the benefit.

Top tips?
If we were starting the process again we would start by looking at the silver award and make the required changes all at once as it is time consuming gathering all the information and we felt, especially at inspection, we could have achieved silver. I would also recommend that sites look at the time line and assess when to apply given that there is a delay between application and inspection – apply while you are still gathering the information.

To find out more about the standards Chester Zoo have achieved, the process for application and to book an appointment with your local Food for Life Served Here development manager or contact us at catering@soilassociation.org

"Our customers are taking an increased interest in the food we serve"Tomas Jelinek (Food and Beverage Manager, Chester Zoo)