There’s much more to ‘feeding time at the zoo’ than sticky buns for the elephants and bananas for the monkeys. County Supplies provides the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) with fruit and vegetables for over 600 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and invertebrates and we talked to Lauren Palmer, ZSL London Zoo’s Logistics Manager about the processes involved in ensuring all of them get the right nutritional balance in their diets
How and why do you work with County Supplies to bring food in for your animals / birds?
With around 14,000 mouths to feed at ZSL London Zoo, it's imperative that food deliveries are of high quality and arrive regularly - we achieve this with an early 6am delivery slot of fresh fruit and veg three times a week. We pride ourselves on having built a strong relationship with County Supplies all the way from directors to delivery drivers as it adds to overall productivity for all involved and means the animals enjoy the quality produce they need to thrive.
Which animals or birds particularly benefit and in what ways? Could we have an example or two of specific animals or birds, what they are fed and how it benefits them nutritionally?
Fresh produce plays a dynamic role in the animals’ lives as not only do they enjoy a daily balanced diet, devised by ZSL’s dedicated nutritionist, but the way the food is prepared encourages the animals’ natural behaviours. For example, the lorikeets’ food is placed on branches in their enclosure to inspire foraging and the bearded pigs’ food is scattered on the ground so they can snuffle for it with their snouts - which are two thousand times more sensitive than a human!
What are your ESG targets - does using surplus fruit and vegetables help you to meet them?
ZSL, which runs ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos, is an international conservation charity, working to help wildlife thrive across the globe – to that end, we actively look at how we can be more sustainable in every area. We have been working with County Supplies on having all our produce delivered in returnable plastic crates, and the keepers order the exact amount they need to last 2 – 3 days until the next delivery, to avoid any unnecessary wastage from surplus stock. This also means the animals’ diet is always fresh. We also work with County Supplies on ordering goods that are in season as this helps drive down cost on expensive items such as leafy greens and exotic fruit, and means the animals have a diverse and changing diet year-round.
How does fruit and veg fit in with the overall food regime at your zoos?
Fruit and vegetables are not only fed to the animals as part of a nutritious diet, but they are also fed to our onsite live food breeding colony which consists of different sized crickets and locusts. The live food is then supplied to the small carnivorous animals, including the meerkats, as part of a balanced and necessary diet. The animals also get the opportunity to eat seasonal food on special occasions such as pumpkins for Halloween and Brussel sprouts for Christmas! The gorillas love the sprouts, but the keepers don’t much enjoy the aftermath…!
Who is involved in the nutritional processes at the zoo, how is the menu for each animal planned and how often does it change? How does the knowledge and expertise of County Supplies contribute to those processes?
ZSL has a dedicated animal nutritionist who is essential in creating nutritious and varied diets for the keepers to work with – each species has their own tailored menu choices. The diets are closely monitored to avoid overfeeding, however there are flexibilities to allow for treats, such as popcorn for the red river hogs, and individual animals’ personal preferences. Just like us, animals have their favourite foods! During the changing seasons, County Supplies supports us through monthly Market Reports that detail crop availability and cost-effective produce. It is important that the animals receive food that is as close as possible to what they would naturally eat in the wild as this supports their physical, mental, and social health and stimulates their natural behaviours.
What do the animals think of the fresh produce they eat?
I cannot speak on their behalf but judging from the empty food buckets every day I would imagine they love the variety of their daily helpings of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Back at County Supplies, Elizabeth Baldwin said: “We were amazed when we did the tender – there were at least eight people on the call, from keepers to nutritionists, talking about reptiles, birds and animals, and they were all telling us about what they feed the animals and how it is about keeping the animals engaged as well as nourishment. We had no idea beforehand how complex an operation it all is and how often they change the menus
“We decant all the produce to ensure there is minimum waste at ZSL’s end – it really is all about sustainability.”
Using surplus to meet your requirements
As you have read in this article, there is demand for fresh produce in all sorts of places. However, roughly three million tonnes of fruit and vegetables are wasted every year in the UK and to do its bit to address this problem, County Supplies has established County Surplus, which works with growers to sell leftover fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste.
Farmers are often left with surplus, no matter how good a grower they are. Whether that’s due to oversupply or because the product has failed to meet high-end specifications, it’s perfectly tasty produce that is fit for consumption (by humans or animals!).
From purple sprouting broccoli to spuds, County Surplus supplies produce that would otherwise be destined for landfill or left to rot in fields. They also help to educate customers on ways they can reduce waste. Managing Director Robert Hurren says: “A third of all food grown is never eaten. County Surplus is our way of supplying fresh sustainable produce daily to our customers. Working with a network of growers we supply the very best produce when it’s in season, helping to reduce waste”
How it works
Whether you have a question about sustainable fresh produce, specific delivery requirements, or indeed, anything else, the County Surplus team is available to answer your questions.