- We celebrate produce
We have always made the quality of our ingredients central to our mission. Not to blow our own trumpet about it, but we’ve won quite a few awards for this. While we’re always grateful when someone acknowledges our work, we always view their kindness as a stimulus to do better.
It takes commitment, smarts and innovation to create and sustain long-term relationships with suppliers, and we value ours highly.
To pick a random three:—
- the smoked salmon in our breakfast poached egg pots and sourdough muffins comes from Wester Ross, Scotland’s oldest independent, owner-operated salmon farm. They produce great fish – they hand rear their salmon so they can constantly monitor their health, they use low stocking densities so the fish have plenty of room to swim (again, a health thing, more exercise means both quality and that the fish don’t require antibiotics), and they’ve introduced wrasse to their farm. Wrasse are small fish that live alongside salmon in the wild because their favourite food is sea lice. So, at Wester Ross, the wrasse solve aquaculture’s biggest issue in a way that’s both natural and stress-free for the salmon. Add to this the Wester Ross team’s exemplary stewardship of the environment, and you have produce we’re thrilled to sell.
- our milk comes from the Calon Wen organic farm co-operative in Wales. They began with just four family farms, working together, now the co-operative includes nearly twenty. Where it has a tangible benefit to our guests, we’ve always sought organic produce at LEON. In the case of milk, it is now scientifically proven that organic is better for us and for the cows that make it. And while the science hasn’t (yet) established the same for milk alternatives, we insist on the same standards of quality in our milk alternatives. So we source ours from Rude Health.
- we buy our honey from Hilltop Honey. Their organic multiflower honey comes from Soil Association certified organic, bee-friendly wild flower meadows. We chose it for its deep floral flavours, and for Hilltop’s commitment to saving the bees – which is not just vital for honey producers but everyone on the planet.
- We are committed to serving more veg and better meat
John and Allegra created our Original Super Salad in 2004, just before we opened. Their goal: to create a salad with heft, one you could actually call a satisfying lunch. You can tell that they succeeded because the Original Super Salad – avocado and broccoli, with quinoa, feta and toasted seeds, topped with a generous sprinkling of fresh herbs – remains a menu mainstay to this day.
Back in 2010, when we published our second cookbook Naturally Fast Food, we floated the idea of treating meat as a side dish and making plants the heroes of our plates. But even since we opened, we’ve been committed to offering a more varied plant-based menu. And not just because our guests want it, though our sales stats show they do, but because we know it’s the right thing to do.
By eating less meat, we can all afford better meat. But that doesn’t mean that we’re out to eradicate meat from our diet. We’re out to give everyone a choice. Currently, 48% of our all day menu is vegetarian and 40% is vegan, up from 40% vegetarian and 28% vegan in 2016, making it easier for everyone to eat great tasting food.
Moreover, buying better meat and better fish means we’re helping the planet and for you. Right now, we have two species of fish on our menu, and both are rated ‘1-2’ (‘Fish to Eat’) on the Marine Conservation Society’s rating. In addition to our sustainably farmed salmon, we make sure that the pollock in our fish fingers is always line caught from sustainable shoals. And all our pork is RSPCA Assured.
- We aim to make your choices easier
Our goal at LEON has always been to make it easy for you to choose good food that’s right for you. So we’ve made a point, in our restaurants and cook books, to point it out clearly when our food is gluten-free, wheat-free, vegan, vegetarian or good for your gut.
- We support farmers around the world
We can’t source everything locally, so when we have to venture further afield, we make sure to adhere to our principles by only buying fair-traded products. We buy our coffee, for example, from Puro, who wholesale Fairtrade, organic coffee, and who work with the World Land Trust to ensure that money from bag of beans sold goes to save the rain forest. They’re up to over 67,000 acres so far, with more to come.
- We use green energy in our restaurants
We’ve all heard the cliché that ‘there is no planet B’. The thing about clichés is that they tend to become so because they’re true. All of our restaurants are powered by 100% green energy: a mix of wind, solar, hydro and anaerobic digestion – which is basically composting to produce energy (in the form of both heat and natural gas) and fertiliser.
- Reduce Reuse Recycle
From the outset, LEON has worked to reduce, reuse and recycle as much waste as can. In the restaurants, you’ll have noticed that we’ve always served our food in compostable boxes and bags, just like our takeaway coffee cups. And in 2018, we replaced plastic cutlery and straws with biodegradable and paper alternatives. What you won’t have seen is that we now send the plastic cartons that our milk’s delivered in out to Dagenham, where they’re re-sterilized and refilled. It’s a circular chain and, we think, a responsible reuse of existing plastic.
But recycling isn’t just about plastics. And one of the challenges everyone faces is that, to recycle effectively, different kinds of waste need to go into different recycling streams. We work constantly to improve how we do this, and one of our most effective schemes has seen us team up with Bio-bean. They turn used coffee grounds into fuel that’s ideal for carbon neutral heating both at home (seriously!) and on an industrial scale.
Our goal, ultimately, is to implement innovative, effective recycling streams you can count on. And for three reasons: so that, when you come to LEON, you know we’ve got recycling covered; to lead in this area by example; and to make it easier for all businesses to follow suit.
- We offer a reusable coffee cup discount
Some people say that the world isn’t going to be saved by a reusable mug. We disagree. We know that sometimes it feels like one small action won’t amount to much more than a drop in the bucket. But the thing about buckets is that, with enough drops, they fill up. Small changes work. So we’re committed to reducing our dependence on single-use items and incentivizing re-use. Since we introduced a 45p reusable cup discount in April 2018 in the hope you’d join in and bring your favourite mug on your daily commute, we’ve seen a 335% increase in cup reuse across our restaurants. You’ve done us proud!
- We are fanatical about food waste
Food waste is the bane of the restaurant industry. It’s unnecessary and it’s expensive, so we set all of our restaurants tight targets to have nothing leftover at the end of the day. We make our food fresh to order and judge our volume forecasts based on the weather, the day of the week (we know you prefer salads on Mondays and Tuesdays, and burgers and wraps as the weekend rolls in) and the sales we had on the same day last year. This means we have almost nothing left over at the end of the day, though any food waste we do have is sent to anaerobic digestion.
- The School Food Plan
Back in 2005, Jamie Oliver alerted the nation to the terrible quality of too many school lunches. His work led directly to the Department of Education coming to our founders John and Henry, and commissioning them to create a plan to help schools feed our kids better.
Published by the DfE in 2013, the plan lays out 17 actions to transform what children eat in school and how they learn about food. And it has led to universal infant free school meals, which means that every kid in Year 1 and Year 2, regardless of means, gets lunch.
- Cook 5
Shortly after John and Henry’s published the School Food Plan in 2013, we launched Cook 5. We wanted to get more children aged 5-15 learning how to cook savoury dishes before they left school, and to discover the magic that a few ingredients, simply prepared, can create. The Cook 5 website was a repository of recipes uploaded by children, sharing their ideas for the chance to win a monthly £50 prize or annual £500 Grand Prize. And, because we know that a good teacher has the ability to shape the course of our lives, we had an additional £2,000 prize to spend on cooking lessons for the school that got the most pupils cooking savoury dishes.
- The Council for Sustainable Business
At LEON, we have always led from the front on sustainable business practices. So we were very proud when, as a part of the government’s 25 year environment plan, the Environment Secretary asked our CEO John to create and chair The Council for Sustainable Business.
John chose the name because it reflects the challenge before us: the Council isn’t here to promote sustainable business, its goal is to make business itself sustainable.
Already it is making a difference, especially on plastics. Drawing from the opinions of the Council’s board, which centred around the broad ideas that plastics were either a force for harming the planet or something we’d actually be excited about if we had just discovered them, the board split into two teams to prosecute each idea and the conventional wisdoms surrounding them. This allowed them to create a synthesized view on plastics policy and present it to the Secretary of State.
Their key finding was that recycling works and that, had it existed properly from the start of the plastics revolution, we would not have found ourselves in our current predicament.
It has led directly to a new tax on plastics containing less than 30% recycled material, the introduction of a standardized plastics recycling process for UK local councils, significant investment in a new recycling plant from waste management company Veolia, and government-backed educational campaign to support it all.
The Council has also recommended Net Gain Development. This means, whether they’re building housing or an industrial site, builders must leave its environment in better condition that it was in when they started. And it is now looking into carbon budgets, natural capital accounting and ideas to protect Britain’s natural diversity and to promote re-wilding.
Their work proved integral in persuading former Prime Minister Theresa May to make a legal binding commitment that Britain will be net-zero for carbon emissions by 2050, a huge acceleration on the original target.
- Our supply chain is so short it could parachute off a penny
Ah yes, you say, that sounds nice, but what does it mean for me when I lunch at LEON? It means we’re able to cut right back on the kinds of preservatives you often don’t even know you’re eating when you serve up your groceries. Take hummus, for example. Many hummuses on the market contain potassium sorbate, which gives it a long, long shelf-life. (Check the label in the supermarket next time you buys some – you’ll be surprised…) Ours doesn’t. Because the hummos we make comes directly to you as fast as it can. Similarly, our chorizo is nitrate free.
We have a low tolerance for preservatives because we want to bring you food that’s as natural as possible, and because we’ll only serve you food we’re be proud to eat ourselves. And we do, every day.
- We have a kwoon
We opened our kwoon, LEON’s wellbeing space, above our Eastcastle restaurant in 2017. ‘Kwoon’ means ‘training hall’ in Chinese (we’re big into Wing Tsun kung fu at LEON). It’s a space open to everyone who works with us.
We take the wellbeing of all our team members very seriously, and have a dedicated team who organise events, fitness programmes, meditation and martial arts so that we can support them as best we can.
This is because LEON’s not just about great food. We want to help our team members and our guests enjoy their best life. We want to save the human. So we are exploring ways in which we can bring our wellbeing programme to the public.
As a part of our wellbeing work, we also ensure that, whenever someone joins our team, they receive training in food and nutrition right away. This not only helps our team members eat well and live well themselves, it translates into a broader food culture across LEON that ensures we all share our commitment to bringing you the best food we can.
- We offer NHS and student discounts
Saving the human is hard and hungry work, as anyone who works in our NHS will tell you. That’s why we offer all NHS workers a discount at LEON. And we offer students a discount too – we want to feed people who are hungry for knowledge!
- We are piloting an on-the-go recycling scheme
We’ve teamed up with Veolia to pilot a new recycling machine. We call it our reverse vending machine. It accepts plastic bottles and aluminium cans, and any time you use it, you receive a 10% off voucher you can redeem at the nearest LEON restaurant.
We’re doing this because, in Britain, 40% of plastic bottles go un-recycled because they’re placed in the wrong bins. And this is despite the fact that 81% of people tell us they’d go out of their way to make sure they deposit their bottle or can correctly.
This is just the latest step in continued commitment to being the most sustainable business we can. At LEON, we recognise that it’s easy to have good values and intentions. But unless we act on them, they’re meaningless. We’ve spent 15 years acting on our values, and we’re grateful that so many of our guests share them too. Because, together, we really can save our ecosystem, and save the human.