Introducing organic items to the school menu

Resource: Case study

Sutton Catering Services runs a school meals service for the majority of primary schools in Sutton. A small team, passionate about their services, Sutton Catering spends around 12% of their budget on organic and MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) products. Operations Manager Angela Hogan explains how they did it.  

Why did you decide to go for the Silver Food for Life Catering Mark?

Sutton Catering Services has been working with Food for Life since 2008 when two of our schools were chosen as flagship schools. Sutton Catering Services did a lot of work with the two schools and achieved the Bronze Catering Mark in October 2009. This was then rolled out to the other schools on the borough contract.

The next major hurdle was to achieve Silver for our catering service to all schools (not just the flagship schools). The most difficult criterion to meet was the use of Freedom Food or 10% organic because we were using frozen meat from a large supplier.

We decided to put a tender out for fresh meat, which we felt would help. The contract was awarded in November 2010 to William White Meats Ltd, enabling us to work very closely with the butcher. WW Meats consulted with Rother Valley Farm and the Soil Association and decided to become accredited for their organic beef burgers. We achieved the 10% criterion by using beef burgers made with organic minced beef purchased by William Whites from Rother Valley Farm.

Due to the amount of work we had put into improving our service we decided that we should apply for the Silver Catering Mark to showcase our achievements.

How did you incorporate more organic items into your school menus?

We serve organic burgers once every 3 weeks, and MSC fish weekly but, starting from winter 2012, all minced beef will be organic. We have also put out a tender for organic fruit and veg. We felt that this was a better way of using organic produce and it also ticks off some of the boxes for Gold (which we will be aiming for next year). The price difference is a concern – nearly £2.00 a kg more – but as these items are only on offer once a week it doesn’t have too much of an impact.

The organic burgers are approximately 48% more expensive than farm assured burgers; and the organic mince is approximately 83% more expensive than standard mince. However, we have been able to accommodate the increase by serving less meat (e.g. introducing meat-free days). Also, by promoting food provenance and working with schools more widely, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Our meal take-up has increased and more schools are engaged.

How did you promote the Silver Catering Mark?

We wrote to all the headteachers and our caterers and asked them to promote our achievement in their school newsletters. A member of the Food for Life Catering Mark team also came in to do a training session with all of our caterers.

We have advertised the Silver Catering Mark on our website, in our council publications and in the local papers.

What’s the next challenge?

Our new challenge for next year is to achieve Gold – alongside our Olympic champions! Watch this space!

The Food for Life Partnership is a network of schools and communities across England committed to transforming food culture. Together we are revolutionising school meals, reconnecting children and young people with where their food comes from, and inspiring families to grow and cook food.

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