Ryan Holmes, Compass Group UK and Ireland: 'There’s no point in us sitting on our hands or waiting for somebody else to do it, we can lead the way'

The Staff Canteen


Ryan Holmes has always been a high-achiever – everything he has endeavoured to do, he has done to the best of his ability, and then some.  

His passion for food came from cooking with his nan growing up in Plymouth, and he soon made it known that he would be pursuing a career as a chef - even though his school’s career advisor tried to talk him out of it. 

“They said, ‘you’re quite intelligent, why don’t you think about doing something else, it’s really unsociable, there’s better careers out there,’ but I said, ‘no, actually, this is my passion, I really like it, so I’m going to do it.” 

His longest stint was spent working for the Williams F1 Team, which he said “was really different, and unique.” 

“Then I fell into the world of contract catering.” 

And as many other chefs in his position, he never turned back.  

“When I first started, I didn’t realise that I had weekends off,” he chuckled, “so I was a bit lost. I had just got used to that being part of it.”  

“That wasn’t what drew me in - I was drawn into the challenge.” 

'It’s really important that we can get a handle on it quickly'

With Compass Group UK and Ireland for just over six years, Ryan joined as executive chef of aviation before moving to Ireland as the company’s culinary director there.  

In 2019, he returned to his current position heading up the UK Business and Industry (B&I) arm.  

Alongside his role, he has been supporting the company’s sustainability initiatives, specifically the net-zero movement, looking at how the company can reach its target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.  

“It’s really important that we can get a handle on it quickly,” he said.  

“We’ve done some really nice stuff around sustainability – it’s incredibly exciting that we’re on this journey and we’re making big and bold changes nice and early.” 

“We’ve got eight years to get to net zero, but we want to race ahead as quickly as we can to embed these things.”  

Not to diminish the significance of the task at hand, Ryan said: “What we need to do is huge. In my role, I’m constantly looking at how we can keep engineering dishes to make them better – we’re constantly looking at our menus within B&I  as a team, so that we can make things more sustainable, working with all of our suppliers to help them on their journey to net zero,” from decreasing their reliance on plastics to seeking to decrease the carbon footprint of the food itself. 

“We’re always looking at how we can do things differently. We look at the emissions of food, how we balance menus, how we balance plates.” 

And while a plant-based focus  is of increasing importance at Compass, he said, “it’s not about taking meat out completely, but how can we do it in the right way that we make people healthy dishes, where we reduce the meat down and add in pulses, grains, vegetables, fibre…” 

When it comes to sustainability, there’s no standing still, as, he said, “it’s a constantly evolving wheel.” 

Even when they do reach net zero, whether that be in 2030 or before, he said, “it won’t stop there,” “because we need to keep moving.”  

'That’s our trade – we know what to do with a broccoli stalk'

Much has been achieved already. As Leanne Turk explained in a previous interview with The Staff Canteen, Compass has removed air freight from its business, meaning supplies can only come through land-based means.  

“It wasn’t easy,” Ryan said. “We had to make some tough calls on taking ingredients out, because if it only comes on a plane, we’ve got a problem.”  

“But it gave us an opportunity to focus on real good British ingredients, some of which we don’t necessarily use enough – we just needed to change our perception on lots of different things.”   

The plan moving forward is to take a more Nordic approach, relying on the land and being clever in their use of ingredients - through traditional methods like pickling, preserving and fermenting.  

“When the strawberries finish, let’s get the last crop, let’s get them into a preserving mechanism and we can stretch that out longer and proudly put that on the menu – that it’s fermented strawberry or pickled strawberry to make that season that ends in September go through to December – and then when it does come back into season, really celebrate that it’s back in bloom.  

“British strawberries are the best in the world, why would we not celebrate that; asparagus, best in the world. You go to other parts of the world and Wye Valley asparagus is on the menu, you think, ‘wow, that’s a British ingredient, we should be really proud of it and celebrate it instead of flying it over from Peru’.”  

As chefs, he said, putting thought into the proper use of ingredients, “that’s our trade – we know what to do with a broccoli stalk, we know what to do with cauliflower leaves. To the general consumer, that’s waste - that goes into their bin every day, so we need to be the ambassadors of that and show how you can make simple changes that can 1) help the environment, 2) help your pocket, and actually are very tasty.” 

“Cook it in the right way and it’s delicious food.” 

'If we don’t influence change, where are we going to be in ten years’ time?'

Whilst some restaurants have championed sustainable philosophies for some time, Ryan believes that being a part of that change as a large entity such as Compass will inspire a more widespread shift. 

“Think of Compass on a global scale. We’re the biggest caterer on the planet – so if we can influence not just our own clients and our own consumers, can we influence people outside of that? What kind of audience could we get to by doing the right thing?” 

“There’s no point in us sitting on our hands or waiting for somebody else to do it, we can lead the way.”  

“A lot of what we’re doing is very pioneering – but if we don’t influence change, where are we going to be in ten years’ time?” 

“I always say we educate three people: we have to educate our own people, because not everybody is a sustainability expert, people need help in that department.”  

“We educate our consumers, because they want to do the right thing but they don’t always know what the right thing is. There’s a lot of greenwashing and things that you see in the media, but we can help people by showing them what to do and they can take that back home into their own environments.”  

“We educate our clients, because we can help them on their net zero goals. The more that we work with our clients, the more contracts that we’re getting on the back of sustainability – and the more influence we can have.” 

“That’s our approach and I think that’s the right thing to do."

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th December 2021

Ryan Holmes, Compass Group UK and Ireland: 'There’s no point in us sitting on our hands or waiting for somebody else to do it, we can lead the way'