Menu planning

On the 11th September 2019 the Governement published its ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ document outlining the “Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions” in a no deal Brexit, it states:

“Certain types of fresh food supply will decrease. Critical dependencies for the food supply chain (such as key input ingredients, chemicals and packaging) may be in shorter supply. In combination, these two factors will not cause an overall shortage of food in the UK but will reduce availability and choice of products and will increase price, which could impact vulnerable groups. The UK growing season will have come to an end and the Agri-food supply chain will be under increased pressure at this time of year, due to preparations for Christmas, which is the busiest time of year for food retailers. Government will not be able to fully anticipate all potential impacts to the agri-food supply chain. There is a risk that panic buying will cause or exacerbate food supply disruption", DEFRA.

The key things to take from this:

  • Some food and sundry items may be in short supply
  • Some prices will rise
  • This is all happening at a busy time of the year for caterers
  • Forward planning is essential to minimise the problems
What the paragraph doesn’t say is how we can mitigate these impacts! Here we’ve collated some thoughts that may be useful:

  • Think about the use of alternative ingredients – The Government quite rightly point out that we are approaching Christmas. We have already seen caterers struggling with the supply of turkey which of course sees a seasonal spike in demand at this time of year. In order for supplies to be available for Christmas lunches it may be necessary to limit use of turkey on regular menus by swapping for chicken or another meat or by reducing the quantity used in dishes by bulking with meat alternatives such as beans and legumes.
  • Fresh produce is expected to be most affected by any shortages owing to short shelf lives and difficulty with storing these ingredients for any long period of time. Frozen, dried and tinned produce will keep longer and as such could be considered as alternatives. Many suppliers will have a good range of frozen fruit and vegetable alternatives to their fresh counterparts. Cooking of Like for like swaps may need additional training for cooks however. For instance, frozen broccoli will not take as long to cook through as fresh raw broccoli, so adjust it’s use in cooking accordingly.
  • Use seasonality charts to look for different British produce – We often get set in our ways and use ingredients on repeat! This might be a great time to explore alternative ingredients. The website Eat the Seasons is a good starting point. The UK root growing season is in full swing now so maybe try incorporating more celeriac and turnip for instance than you would usually do, mix it up and rotate ingredients to keep your customers excited as well!
  • Speak to your suppliers – They will know what produce is best at this time of year in the UK, have regular crop updates and crucially will also know what supplies they have or what is selling fast and in short supply. The Food For Life Supplier Scheme has details of many suppliers familiar with public procurement settings, if your regular suppliers aren’t able to help.
  • Refresh your menu – Now may be a good time to plan new menus and try out some new dishes – get chefs creativity flowing! This scenario doesn’t need to be a negative one.
  • Use specials as a way of offsetting any dishes that may have to be cancelled or changed at the last minute. Customers will be understanding that menus may need to adapt but they will continue to expect choice, so have specials in the pipeline that you can use when required.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! Again, customers will be understanding. But make sure you remember to tell them what is going on! It sounds simple but in the busy rush of preparing for service, this might be the last thing we think about. Get menus out as early as possible and use whatever communication channels you have available to share changes with your clientele. Social media is a great way of spreading messages quickly, rather than waiting for the customers to arrive and see the menu at a counter.
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Pupils in Food for Life schools eat around a third more fruit and vegetables than pupils in comparison schools, and significantly more fruit and vegetables at home.

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