How to deliver 6,000 nutritious meals a day, 1300 metres below the surface of the Gobi desert.
This was the problem faced by British Company Bullseye Food Packaging– a specialist provider of meal tray solutions for commercial and industrial caterers. And it’s now a problem solved with the help of Peter Prior, the founder of Bullseye, who travelled more than 4,000 miles to Mongolia to help make sure that up to 6,000 miners – working at what will soon be the world’s largest copper and gold mine – get four square meals a day.
The Oyu Tolgoi mine is situated in the Southern Gobi desert where ground temperatures range from +40°C to -40°C and where, at full output by 2021, around 6,000 workers will extract nearly half a million tonnes of copper and 425,000 ounces of gold every year. The mine is a joint venture between the Mongolian Government and Turquoise Hill Resources and has been managed by the global mining giant Rio Tinto since 2010. The scale of the deposits there are expected to last 50 years and generate up to a third of Mongolia’s GDP as well as employing a 90 percent Mongolian workforce.
Every statistic about this $7billion investment is larger than life but when first faced with the task of getting fresh food to thousands of miners, Peter was not at all fazed. In fact, he had helped on a similar mining project in Madagascar just a couple of years earlier. “These workers have one of the toughest jobs in the world and they work all day in one of the toughest environments on earth. They need good quality nutritious food and they need it fresh and tasty even though they might be 1300 metres below ground. The key challenge for us was to ensure that the extremely well-invested and highly efficient kitchens could deliver food to any part of the 12 square mile site and still retain the quality and appeal of their meals. The second part of the challenge was to respect the environment in this wonderful part of the world by making sure we minimised waste in any form. We are proud to have met both challenges.”
The food delivery solution from Bullseye is based on their multi-compartment, eco-friendly meal trays which carry every component of the meal with each tray being film-sealed to protect quality and nutrition. These trays are sealed using Bullseye’s semi-automated packing machines within the food preparation area, after which the trays carrying a full day’s meals are rapid chilled and loaded into a purposed-designed delivery bag which is personal to each individual worker. Four trays are packed into the meal bags every day. The ‘tiffin bag’ idea works extremely well and is currently serving over 1000 workers every day – a figure expected to rise five-fold when the mine gets up to speed. The system means there is no likelihood of contamination or spillage from kitchen to the work area, and it also allows each worker to take ownership of their day’s ‘pack-ups’. So what constitutes a packed lunch in the Gobi desert? It’s surprisingly similar to a western pack-up but with, as you might expect, plenty of fluids in the form of water and juices. There is a soup course plus a main meal typically of meat, vegetables and rice. There are snacks including sandwiches and breads and there are salads and cakes. All packed neatly into the Bullseye trays which, in turn, pack neatly into the Bullseye bags.
But where does the environmental care aspect come into the equation? Peter explains, “First, all our trays are made from paper pulp so their environmental impact is minimal to start with. All trays can be compacted and easily recycled at the end of their useful life and at Oyu Tolgoi we are involved in putting in systems to ensure that no waste is left at the work site. The sealing method used on our machines also ensures that food is kept in good condition right until it is regenerated by microwaves for immediate consumption on site so there is virtually no food waste. And we have even involved the local community in contributing to our solution too – the bespoke food bags used in the process are now manufactured by local people in the nearby town of Khanbodg.”
Whilst a mine in Mongolia is literally a world away from Bullseye’s European business, which involves supplying food tray systems to more than 300 sites from care homes and meals on wheels providers to local councils and even police custody cells, there are many common commitments – the first of which is the company’s dedication to problem–solving. “We like to be there at ground level, helping our customers face issues and resolve problems. It’s all part of the service” says Peter.