Utrecht University buys large volumes of food and drink for meetings and events. Staff and students buy lunch and hot meals in the restaurants. Utrecht University wants to make its catering and meals increasingly sustainable. The production of vegetables, fruit, cereals and meat often results in greenhouse gas emissions, damage to biodiversity, water consumption and deforestation. The university wants to avoid these negative impacts by making sustainable choices when purchasing catering products.

The ambition to make catering more sustainable has been documented in the Sustainability Plan (2019), which includes the sustainability objectives of the Facilities Service Centre. This directorate is responsible for catering services.At the request of the university, the caterer pays a lot of attention to supplying vegetable-based dishes, the prevention of food waste, locally grown food that is in season and healthy choices. For example, the caterer in the Educatorium in  Utrecht  Science  Park  predominantly  offers  plant-based  meals  and  the catering service is vegetarian by default. Researchers from the Future Food Hub are working on this.

Future Food Lab


In this edition of the Sustainability Monitor, sustainable catering is measured using three indicators: food waste, meat-vegetarian ratio and packaging. Together, meat and food waste have by far the greatest environmental impact. In coming years, this will be expanded to include other themes that are also relevant to sustainable catering.

KPIs for measuring conscious catering

9.1 Food waste

The university’s goal is to reduce the food waste of the catering service by 25% in 2018 and 50% in 2024 - compared to 2015. Waste in restaurants is not included in this scope. Separately discarded food is fermented into compost by waste processor Renewi.

In 2019 no measurements have been taken to understand how much food waste has decreased. However, attention was paid to orders and users to make it clear to them that they play a role in reducing food waste. In 2020, a defined period will be used to measure how much food is wasted. The Contract and Supplier Management Department, in collaboration with the new caterer, will ensure that annual measurements are taken.

9.2 Ratio between meat-vegetarian restaurant and catering service

The aim for the university’s catering is to reduce the percentage of meat and fish in the total purchase. By 2021, the entire catering service must be vegetarian.

The university has been expanding its vegetarian range for several years, both in the restaurant and at events and meetings. The effect of this extra attention can now be seen in Sodexo’s purchasing figures. In 2018, almost 20,000 kilos of meat was purchased by Sodexo for the UU, in 2019 this was 16,000 kilos. The use of dairy products (cheese and milk) has also been reduced by 10%

9.3 Packaging

Utrecht University has set the following goals:

  • From September 2022, 100% of the packaging will be of one type of material in UU catering, which makes it possible to be 100% recyclable or reusable.
  • The university is investigating how the use of plastic packaging can be reduced as much as possible in catering.
  • At  the  moment,  there  is  no  data  available  on  the use of packaging. The Contract and Supplier Management Department and the new caterer are dealing with this with issue.

Milestones 2019

  • On September 11th 2019, the Future Food Lab in the Educatorium was opened. This lab offers, among other things, vegetarian tomato burgers and 'not-dogs', as well as a soup of saved vegetables. By 1 March 2020, 4,521 hamburgers, 839 not-dogs and 4,714 soups had already been sold.
  • In February 2019, vending machine supplier Maas stopped selling PET bottles of water from the soft drinks vending machines. This resulted in a reduction of approximately 28,000 PET bottles per year.

Outlook 2020

  • From July 2020, the catering of the UU will no longer be carried out by Sodexo but by Eurest. Eurest operates with the following principles: (1) reducing food waste, (2) working with their suppliers to drastically reduce the use of single use plastic and (3) responding to consumer demands for plant-based cuisines and meat alternatives. Together with the caterer, the university will further increase sustainable catering.
  • All business lunches that the new caterer delivers to the university will be vegetarian by default.