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Alastair Johns – Head of Retail and Catering at University of Arts London

University of Arts London (UAL) have been Food for Life Served Here Gold Certified with their catering partner, Baxterstorey for over ten years, encompassing all their sites including Camberwell College of Art, Central St Martins, Chelsea College of Art, London College of Communication, London College of Fashion – Lime Grove, Wimbledon College of Art and UAL hospitality. Alastair Johns, Head of Retail and Catering, is the person who pushed for that change initially, becoming the driving force behind achieving Food for Life Served Here Gold Certification.

“The university’s Catering Operations Director at the time suggested going for Bronze, and I said no let us go for Gold. We really need healthy eating for students, and they should be leaving University understanding what healthy food can look like.”

Implementation was not without its challenges, however with some backing from the Vice Chancellor in the form of a limited time subsidy, Alastair was able to trial higher-quality and higher-welfare food and see if it was something the students would be happy to pay for themselves. “Sales went up at least 20% in the first year of serving this better food, despite the price going up. It could be their main meal of the day – it is important that students have the opportunity to have one decent hot meal per day and an example of what quality food can look like."

The team at UAL took to the challenge immediately, and sustainability has become a defining part of what they offer. “When we moved into Central St Martins with a new canteen and you could really see the food offer, that was a proud moment. I am proud every day when I visit sites; the food they offer are honestly pictures of art, and they do it consistently, even up against commercially demanding targets."

Their work does not stop at the kitchen either, as they prioritise student engagement around cooking and sustainability too. On site and online cooking demonstrations happen regularly, focusing on things like cooking on a budget or how to bake your own bread. “Pizza making is one that’s particularly popular!” shares Anita Kelly, Operations Manager at BaxterStorey. 

For Alastair, leading by example is key. “Don’t stop at Bronze or Silver, demand that Gold level and others will have to step up their game to compete,” he shares, encouraging other caterers to be bold and brave in their steps towards sustainability. “To lose the Gold certification from a social purpose point of view would just be a disaster – it’s a stamp of authority to back up our claims.”

Maintaining such a high level of sustainability for so long is a brilliant achievement, and Alastair’s work has left a legacy of sustainable change within catering at the University. “I estimate that I have served over half a million students in my lifetime, and I am hoping some of those half a million students go away thinking they have had some decent food at the university. I once met an ex-student of Central St. Martins completely by chance in Amsterdam, and she remembered the food and said it was brilliant!”

In such an extensive career punctuated by sustainability wins big and small, achieving the Food for Life Served Here Gold Certification remains a highlight. “In my retirement speech when I am asked what am I most proud of? That is right up there – achieving the gold.”

Caron Longden, Head of Business Development, Healthy and Sustainable Diets at the Soil Association, said:

“I would like to thank and congratulate Alastair at University of Arts London and their catering partner BaxterStorey on the continuation of Gold Food for Life Served Here Certification. We started working together ten years ago, and through all the challenges of recent times they have maintained our highest level of certification. This shows a clear commitment to the food they serve, leading the way for serving sustainable food at universities. 

Everyone at the Soil Association is proud of their achievements and the difference they are making to the health of their students, our climate and nature through the food they serve, which includes organic produce.

We would like to wish Alastair a restful and peaceful retirement and take the opportunity to say a huge thank you for your continued enthusiasm and drive for sustainable food and Gold Food for Life Served Here Certification.”

UAL holding Gold Food for Life Served Here Certification means:

  • Meat comes from farms which satisfy UK animal welfare standards
  • 15% of ingredients are organic and at least 5% of pork and poultry is free-range
  • All milk is organic from West Horsley Dairy, Surrey, UK
  • All eggs are organic, free range, locally sourced, lion stamped and RSPCA Assured, from Chapel Farm, Surrey, UK
  • All fish served is sustainable
  • All fish served is 100% MSC pollock
  • They serve locally produced and seasonal produce
  • They are helping to make healthy eating easier
And much more, including:
  • Soups are always vegan
  • Vegan pastries and cakes are offered as alternative at most of their cafes
  • 70% of their food offer is either vegetarian or vegan
  • Alternative vegan drinks soya and oat are offered with coffees, both free of charge
  • Their house espresso, Cast Iron, is from a Rainforest Alliance certified estate in Guatemala, San Marcos, and roasted on Betty, a 1950s Vintage Probat roaster
  • Recycling used cooking oil into biodiesel
  • Sending zero waste to landfill since 2014. 100% of kitchen food waste goes to an anaerobic digester to be turned into renewable energy managed by Suez
  • Surplus and wonky vegetables are a part of their menus and salad bar, in collaboration with Waste Knot
  • Selling vegan Lemon-aid+ and ChariTea soft drinks which are 100% organic and Fairtrade certified