Good Business campaign – Sally Leigh Q&A

The fifth interview in our Good Business series is with Sally Leigh, strategic purchasing and logistics director at Elior UK.

Sally talks us through the challenges and opportunities of purchasing in catering, a dynamic sector which has a huge supply chain.

Walk us through your background, Sally.

I completed a hotel and catering degree at Oxford Brooks University. Since then, I’ve always worked in hospitality, for hotel groups, contract caterers or local government. I was head of corporate procurement for the London Borough of Lambeth local government before joining Elior two and a half years ago.

I really think catering forms a strategic pillar of its own. It involves staff welfare and sustainability initiatives, and it is an industry where everyone is scrutinising supply chains. It’s certainly a very dynamic industry to work in.

How important are standards and credentials, such as ISO, when partnering with large corporates/SMEs?

There are a variety of ways to approach standards for product markets and product areas. For the tender process involving large volume lines, for example, we are very specific about our minimum requirements. For example, we might specify that it must be a Red Tractor certified product because our client has specified this contractually for us. If they haven’t got the accreditation our clients want, we won’t buy it.

At Elior, we have our own group sustainability charter, which includes the way that we work, our audit regime and modern slavery policies. We have a risk analysis which varies depending on the requirement and we are incredibly particular about how we spec.

We’re looking for suppliers who are pushing themselves with regard to certifications, and it’s fantastic to see that more suppliers are achieving certifications, such as B Corp, along with those aligning themselves with and achieving Science Based Targets initiative certification.

What about ‘good business’ awards? How much weight do they carry?

They carry more weight now. All organisations are looking at how their supply chain can help them deliver on their strategic business aims, with sustainability and social value being much more prominent than ever before. Looking at net zero, which is a strategic priority for Elior and for many of our clients, the supply chain has a huge impact on scope 3 emissions. In fact, organisations’ supply chains often account for more than 90% of their greenhouse gas emissions. So the actions that our suppliers are taking, along with their ability to prove their progress through data and be recognised through awards, has never been more important.

What are the alternative ways small and large businesses can prove their commitment to environmental sustainability and social value?

It’s all about asking open questions. We want to hear examples of what a company’s approach is, what they’ve done in the past, and how they’ve managed their commitment to the cause. Here’s an example – we recently ran a sustainability competition designed to see what our suppliers were doing and what shared learning could come from that. We then facilitated a platform to share those learnings on non-commercially sensitive sustainability initiatives.

We also work collaboratively where the opportunity arises. For example, we support Bidfood’s Open Doors programme, aimed at unlocking the potential of emerging suppliers and providing access to best-in-class innovation.Working with Bidfood, we aim to increase understanding of the role we play in the food ecosystem, both inhouse and externally, and part of this involves recognising the importance of fostering innovation and supporting emerging businesses in our sector. With Bidfood, we engage and support smaller suppliers as they start their foodservice journey, and give our team and customers visibility of the leading new suppliers where we can.

What are the steps involved in identifying, partnering and collaborating with environmentally and socially conscious suppliers?

It depends on the procurement stage. The first step is always a needs analysis: what are we looking for, what do we really want, and what is important to us. The market engagement phase is all about finding out more. This could be in the form of visiting exhibitions or cold calling suppliers to gather information about who’s available in that market.

We also host market engagement sessions where we look at market insights, trends, and opportunities. We’ve found that the more you engage with suppliers, the more knowledge you get, and the more you can help share and shape that knowledge. We often do a learning piece, develop a tender from that and share it with interested parties.

How can procurement promote diversity within a supply chain?

It’s key to understand the audience of the tender and how we can structure that to attract smaller and more diverse companies to tender for bids. This adds further complexity to the supply chain. It could mean including reduced payment terms for small businesses. We do try to accommodate this where possible, and it is something we carefully monitor. We’ve also integrated Electronic Data Interchange e-invoicing to optimise our supply chain.

Elsewhere, we’ll scrutinise and look at certifications and audits for areas such as fair wages and modern slavery policies for regions and products we have industry concerns about, such as coffee. Most of it is traded involving agencies and the supply chain isn’t clear. Sometimes very little of it is known, but there are certifications and programmes that we can buy from to ensure it is ethical.

How do you monitor and evaluate to ensure your suppliers are continuing to promote social value and environmental sustainability on an ongoing basis?

We’re introducing an annual audit for emissions in our supply chain. It’s not in place yet but it’s something we are working towards to help reach net zero. We will be following up with suppliers over the life of the contract so we can track progress about how they are performing and improving. Some suppliers already get regular visits from buyers. This could be site visits to see the latest solar panels or electric fleet of vehicles, for example, as part of a business review. We just want to make it a much more concrete process.

Focusing on carbon footprint, local produce is of course a big agenda item, but this has evolved slightly to local growing, or producing in the right place, where there is the least amount of intervention energy-wise. The vehicle that collects produce from the point of growth to the market can, in some cases, result in a small amount of carbon impact, but the growing processes could be significantly more. There’s a shift in thinking in terms of sustainability – you need to look at the bigger picture.

Follow our Good Business campaign

More information about our Good Business campaign is available on our website.

The first four interviews in the series are available to read on our website:

If you’d like to find out more or talk about how you and your business can get involved, email me on

Jo Sutherland