Wagamama

overall rating:

1.5

planets

Bridget Stuart
12/15/2021
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Wagamama is a restaurant chain which has been serving up healthy and affordable Japanese cuisine since 1992, originating in the UK and now spreading across 20+ countries. This eatery has been a haven for vegetarians since before it was trendy, and just last month, all its outlets (149 in the UK alone) announced a transition to a 50% plant-based menu. This shift is a reflection of the Wagamama belief that ‘individual actions when made collectively add up to create a positive change in our world’. Wagamama cites pro-environmental motivations for this change as eating a plant-based diet could help reduce the amount of land used for agriculture by 76% (Schiermeier, 2019) and it could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food by up to 49% (IPCC, 2019). The Wagamama organisation has also been a member of the sustainable restaurant association (SRA) since 2018, meaning the business is held accountable to its pledge to focus on three key areas of responsibility: sourcing, society and environment.

While I can’t wait to get me to a Wagamama for their vegan spicy teriyaki vegan ‘chicken’ hirata steamed buns (try saying that 10 times fast), we have to ask whether this is a purely tokenistic shift in line with the rise of veganism’s popularity or whether it is a true reflection of underlying sustainable and ethical values. 

The Wagamama business mantra is ‘kaizen’ which means ‘good change’ or ‘continual improvement’ and it does appear that this restauranteur is on the journey to making the necessary pro-environmental and pro-social transition. However, in my opinion, there are elements of their business which could be and need to be improved faster. Speaking metaphors, there is a cold dark gap in which a chain restaurant such as Wagamama could light the ethical torch and blaze a sustainable trail. However, while we must laud Wagamama for its ongoing positive progress, it still allows the status quo to dampen its light. 

What it's made of:

1.5

The commitment to sustainable meat and dairy sourcing sadly doesn't appear to be that strong. Wagamama has pledged to the ‘European chicken commitment’ which is a set of standards for improving the welfare and living environment of farmed chickens. However, these standards will not be achieved fully across the Wagamama supply chain until 2026, and these standards are not even that ambitious (somewhere between factory farming and red tractor cert). In other words, this ‘chicken commitment’ isn't all that great. Again, they do also source their eggs from 100% free range sources but as we know, this isn't necessarily the gold sustainable-ethical zenith. A huge brand like Wagamama who cares so overtly about sustainable sourcing should really be doing more to ensure their meat and dairy based products are being responsibly sourced. I mean, at the very least, organic chicken and eggs would be a step up.

Now, as mentioned above, 50% of the Wagamama menu is plant-based for those who are vegan or ‘veg-curious’ and are just trying to reduce their meat consumption. Not only are these dishes less carbon intensive but they are award-winningly delicious and of price parity with the meat-based dishes. This move is a very positive one as it puts plant-based food into the mainstream and shows everyone (and their tastebuds) that vegan food doesn't have to compromise on flavour. However, sadly there is little information on the sourcing of Wagamama's fresh produce and/or plant-based ingredients. This information is necessary to make an informed decision on whether the chain really is committed to sustainable sourcing, especially as they do use ingredients on the environmental 'most wanted' list such as soy, asparagus, avocados and coconut.

How it's made:

2

Wagamama changed their packaging from black to grey plastic as the UK council recycling facilities for grey plastics are much better. Indeed, all the Wagamama packaging can be recycled. In their own stores, they recycle every single glass bottle and recycle 1260 tonnes of cardboard boxes every year, although I don't know how much of a pat on the back this deserves. However, they also encourage people to reuse the grey plastic takeaway containers as they are durable and high quality. Overall, the company has reduced the material waste from their takeaway products by 70%. They also got rid of plastic straws in 2019 in line with UK government policy. 

A new initiative that Wagamama is starting to trial in areas where they have identified that plastic is burnt as opposed to recycled is ‘bowl bank’. This allows consumers to return their take-out Wagamama bowls to an outlet in exchange for food vouchers. 

Furthering their commitment to reducing waste, Wagamama utilises its used cooking oil and turns it into fuel. In 2020, they turned 1 million litres of used cooking oil into bio-diesel fuel. In fact, even the leftover noodles and other food waste matter - so-called ‘plate waste’ - gets carted off to anaerobic digesters and turned into sustainable energy. This process saves 30 tonnes of food waste each month! Wagamama is also always working on ways to recycle as much as they can.

A major win for Wagamama is that all their restaurants are ran off of renewable electricity. Similarly, the lighting used across all outlets uses energy efficient LEDs, simultaneously saving energy and creating some mood-lighting.

On the water front, they have installed water flow regulators to reduce excess water flow. Such devices save 28 million litres of water per year. 

The Wagamama goal is to be carbon neutral by 2035, which seems like a fairly achievable (read: unambitious) target. They believe that it is important to reduce their carbon emissions first and use offsetting second, which is a policy I can 100% get behind. From the website, it does appear that they are committed to this pledge, and have segregated their plan into scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions with the albeit vague promise of ‘regular’ updates. 

All in all, in this respect, I think Wagamama is doing an impressive job as a front-runner in the restaurant chain race. So, of course while there will be areas for improvement, let’s take a moment to say well done!

Who makes it:

1.5

One of Wagamama’s three commitments for 2021 is to become ‘an ally for diversity and inclusion’. Wagamama’s gender pay report (2021) is both comprehensive and progressive, and in every year prior to the pandemic, the chain has reported a negative gender pay gap (in favour of women). Wagamama also has a comprehensive ‘human trafficking and slavery statement’. It does appear that as an employer, the chain is doing a good job. This is in part exemplified by the fact that they were able to furlough 99% of their 5000+ staff around the world during the COVID lockdown. However, while all the above initiatives are indeed positive, it isn't anything special and really should be a given for such a large employer in this day and age. Also, I would have appreciated a bit more information, especially from the Wagamama job forum website.