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Caterers flex and adapt to maintain high quality despite rising costs and increased pressure

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Today, the Financial Times has shared the plight of school food caterers struggling as the cost of living truly hits.

We know that as the cost-of-living increases Food for Life Served Here (FFLSH) caterers are working incredibly hard to maintain excellent food standards. These are standards that benefit pupils’ health, our climate and the world around us. However, caterers are concerned for the future.

Our survey

We sent out a survey to FFLSH caterers and the results have shown that whilst caterers are doing fantastically in difficult circumstances, many caterers worry that they can’t keep going for much longer.

96% of respondents are not using more processed foods in their meals, but 55.3% are concerned they may need to in the future to cut costs.

In a bid to curb rising costs, caterers are finding innovative and sustainable solutions, including:

  • using local suppliers - thereby keeping transport costs down
  • redesigning menus - reducing meat and replacing with pulse
  • growing their own food

We continue to applaud our caterers for remaining creative and determined in their methods to ensure good quality food, yet it is clear that we’re at a pivotal moment. Government input is needed to prevent an increase in ultra-processed foods increasing on school menus.

Rob Percival, head of food policy here at Soil Association says: “The first step towards ensuring school meals remain of a high quality is to get as many children as possible eating them, thereby creating economies of scale. And the caterers from our survey agree. 40.4% of respondents still find that increasing school meal uptake, whilst ensuring more children have one hot, healthy meal per day, also decreases costs for them through economies of scale.

This is why it’s so important that the government expands free school meal eligibility. This would provide a wider nutritional safety net, supporting hungry children, while also helping caterers to meet the challenge of rising costs.”

“School caterers have been warning of a growing crisis for years and now, predictably, it has come to a head. The government’s commitment to an additional 7 pence per infant meal is welcome, but when caterers have faced years of underfunding on top of the current levels of inflation, this is wholly inadequate. The government needs to be more ambitious and undertake a comprehensive review of school food policy and funding, ensuring that caterers are supported to deliver fresh and sustainable meals, and that no child ever goes hungry while at school.”

“It’s not all bad news. Tower Hamlets Council are one of many Food for Life caterers who are leading the way by serving children with nutritious, tasty meals in a more sustainable way, despite the challenging environment in which they are operating. A universal approach to free school meals across Key Stage 2 has provided them with the economies of scale needed to deliver fresh, seasonal and sustainable meals. At least 5% of the ingredients are organic. This is massively impressive, and should be replicated nationally.”

Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets' Central Production Unit, a Silver awarded FFLSH caterer, were interviewed by the Financial Times. They shared that they have reduced their meat on menus. 

Soil Association supports a shift towards ‘less and better’ meat on environmental grounds and swapping meat for veg and plant proteins can be healthy and sustainable, if wholesome and balanced across the full menu.

It’s not just Tower Hamlets who are taking this approach. 27% of respondents to our survey confirmed that they are serving less meat to cut costs and maintain the quality of their food.

For more information about Food for Life Served Here, please get in touch with Caron: CLongden@soilassociation.org

Or head to our Sustainable Catering Awards page here