Since their first hotel was established in 1957, the Hyatt Hotels Corporation has continued to grow. In 2020, Hyatt has over 100,000 employees worldwide servicing nearly 900 properties across 20 brands in 60 countries. As part of their corporate responsibility, Hyatt drives change across their value chain to help protect the environment, human rights and animal welfare, and to support inclusion and diversity. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has awarded the company a rating of 100 percent in the HRC Equality Index for more than ten years.
GlobeScan’s Asia Director Wander Meijer spoke with Lucas Glanville, Director of Culinary Operations Singapore and South East Asia at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on the hospitality sector as well as their ongoing efforts to offer healthy choices to their guests, work with local suppliers, incorporate animal welfare considerations, support options like organic or antibiotic-free, and identify options with a low environmental impact.
Can you tell me a bit about your career?
I’ve been cooking for 35 years, the last 18 of which have been in Southeast Asia. Around 2002, I had an opportunity to work at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Singapore, and now I work with all 21 hotels in Southeast Asia. My role is finding new products and managing the day-to-day operations of the hotel kitchen, which are vast.
You’ve been a proponent of more sustainable cooking and plant-based products. How did that evolve?
Having grown up in Australia, we were very fortunate with our environment and the ingredients available to us. We always had an abundance of food that was the best of the season and at the best value, so I would always have an opportunity to use, enjoy, and eat different ingredients. Vegetables don’t grow overnight so you really need to celebrate what comes out of the ground and not waste it. When I first started working in kitchens in the 80s, we didn’t have any food waste. People would always say “make sure you use that part up” or “put that in the fridge we can use it later.” Now people talk about numbers of up to 40 percent of global production going to waste.
What went wrong?
We became very entitled. We stopped valuing food that was grown close to home and started to believe that food coming from further afield was better. I suppose we became lazy as business people and waste became acceptable in an industry where you never want to say no to a guest – that is how it starts.
How can you influence your customers and get back to a situation where we don’t waste food as much?
I run a kitchen where we serve between 4,000 and 5,000 meals a day. That includes finding the most ethical, seasonal, and responsibly sourced ingredients that are ultimately sustainable. The executive chef is the decision-maker for the ingredients that come into a hotel; he or she will make the decision on what to pay for a carrot or a chicken or any produce. It is not about buying the cheapest, it is about buying the best and sometimes the best costs more. The storytelling is the key to it and using social media and letting guests understand where our products come from and why we use them can be very powerful. That creates preference and that is what we want – we want our guests to come back.
Can you share your experience with seafood scarcity and your collaboration with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)?
We used to have one 20-kg fish coming to the kitchen. Now I get 20 1-kg fish coming in. And at a hotel of this size, the Grand Hyatt Singapore, we use nearly 200 tonnes of seafood a year, so you better make sure you’re using the right product.
Our agreement with MSC/WWF guides us on making the right decisions about seafood in our hotels in each market where we operate. We have about 900 hotels and in each one we have an agreement that 15 percent of our seafood must come from the MSC or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), and 35 percent must come from what we call a “responsible source.” Responsibly sourced seafood could be from the WWF green list or could be certified by GLOBALG.A.P as good agricultural practice. The cost of sustainable seafood is in decline and sourcing certified sustainable seafood from the ASC or the MSC is getting easier. Seafood was something that we started on and it grew from there; our philosophy in the company is Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served. That requires us to have an understanding of where our ingredients come from and how to serve them.
Are there any new initiatives that you are working on?
We have been removing what we felt were non-ethical ingredients from our menus. We have a Japanese restaurant, and rather than serve Bluefin tuna, we serve other sustainable options. The biggest item we removed was shark fin back in 2013. We thought we’d have to close the hotel due to lost business, but we were able to offer our guests a better, more sustainable option and both our wedding and Chinese event businesses have never been stronger. The guests were accepting of the change which gave us confidence moving forward. We removed foie gras and soft-shell crab from the hotel, both of which involve inhumane treatment. We removed eel because we don’t have sufficient scientific evidence that they are harvested in a way that protects the animal and the environment.
In trying to implement these changes, what were the obstacles?
It hasn’t been clear sailing and our business has changed dramatically in the past six weeks because of the coronavirus. We work with multiple organic farmers in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia to grow vegetables on our behalf and we can’t stop production. So we are working and collaborating together with our producers to find a solution. Money shouldn’t be the first thing we consider in this situation.
You have had an incredible journey into sustainability over the past 20 years. What is your next ambition?
It doesn’t stop. A couple of years ago we eliminated drinking straws from this hotel and as a company we’re removing single-use plastics from all our hotels. I think what’s probably on the radar now is single-use glass. A lot of glass can be recycled, but the majority of it cannot. You bring a branded bottle of still or sparkling water and you put it in the fridge, chill it, and put it on the table. Within half an hour it has been finished, and now it is the operator’s problem to get rid of this bottle. What is the best we can do with how we procure our glass? What can be returned, reused, and sent back again? There are some very engaging companies here that are selling spirits in larger flasks that can be reused and returned so we’re looking at initiatives like that now.
How have you been affected by the coronavirus as a business?
The coronavirus has had a drastic effect on the hospitality industry in Singapore. People are not traveling so they are not staying in hotels and new social distancing laws in Singapore also mean that people are not dining out.
In a situation like this, it is about remaining agile and flexible to adapt to what’s good for our customers and the market. It is also about doing more for our customers with what we have. Because of this, we were able to quickly introduce a suite of takeout items that they can enjoy at home.
This includes our $10 meal boxes featuring ten of our best dishes from our restaurants, a selection of freshly baked pizzas with dough that we make in-house, and being one of the first food and beverage establishments in Singapore to offer 1 kg family meal packs. While it is a very difficult time for many, we want to make it easy for everyone by doing the cutting, washing, and cooking for them.
We have implemented every measure that we think is appropriate and now it is about leadership, about keeping the team positive and proactive, and communicating and making sure all stakeholders are aware of this; of how the climate has changed, how the rules of business have changed, and we need to react accordingly.