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Can school caterers take steps to help ease the pressure of food inflation?

In short, yes! Thankfully there are some practical steps that may well prove helpful. Here, allmanhall explore how school caterers can become more efficient in their operational practices. The goal? Supporting schools to ease some of the pressure of food inflation.

Should you be tweaking your school’s operational practices and processes?

It’s a good idea to consider revisiting your existing operational practices with a real focus on their financial benefit. During the pandemic school kitchens had to adapt to an ever-changing environment that was outside of their control and devised systems that could cope with the guidelines laid down by the Government. Many of these changes have remained following the relaxing of rules, but now would be good time to review these changes to see if any further improvements can be made to enable a more cost effective and efficient operation for your school.

Kitchen practices can be enhanced and made more efficient by considering, and where possible improving, your catering team’s skills. For example, a talented chef who is skilled and motivated in the kitchen will be more cost effective than bringing pre-packaged products into your school. Upskilling and training will therefore have benefits.

Consider reviewing how your team is approaching stock management to see if there are opportunities to minimize holding stock and reduce wastage. Food waste can be a large and unnecessary expense for your school. It is also an environmental issue, whether kitchen waste or waste from meals. So, review and improve how your catering wastage is being both recorded and managed.

Now is also the time to be giving consideration to your school’s long-term capital investment strategy with regards to kitchen equipment. Using modern equipment can really drive cost efficiencies. New technologies may seem like a big cost upfront but will ultimately generate a return on investment as they use less energy, cook more efficiently and support waste reduction and help your catering team to optimize yield.

Recipes and menus

Real impact on food costs can be made through smart and effective recipe engineering, with restricted menus. Now more than ever, it’s time to make adjustments that have no detrimental impact for your pupil’s experience when it comes to quality, taste or allergens, but that will shave off unnecessary costs! Recipes are an important way of managing costs, improving quality, managing dietary requirements, ensuring consistency and, of course, to help reduce wastage.

Consider reviewing the product specifications of the products you use without reducing the quality of a finished dish. For example, are class 1 vegetables really needed if they are being chopped up and put into a dish? Or could winky vegetables be suitable instead, and savings be made. High-spend categories such as meat can be reduced or substituted. For example, replacing 95vl mince with 90vl, and offering more vegetarian dishes for your pupils as an alternative. Perhaps review the need for luxury items and use own brand rather than branded goods where feasible. To do so, you may consider asking your suppliers for alternatives for sampling and so you can trial and test options for your school.

By undergoing a recipe review you can challenge your recipes and assess whether ingredients could be reduced or removed without compromising the dish. You may even discover some improvements!

Why not start re-thinking about your school’s menu cycles with the food cost for each dish taken into consideration?

By doing so, you will quickly identify those high-cost dishes and whether they can be adapted to reduce overall menu costs. Understanding changes in product pricing helps to influence your recipes and menus. For example, eggs and poultry are a particular risk area at present. Ensure you stay abreast of these things and adapt your menu accordingly

As you are no doubt already acutely aware, communicating and sharing the challenges associated with rising food costs with your team and, importantly, your pupils and the wider school community is really important. This will help to provide further understanding and will support any changes you are compelled to introduce as food inflation impacts and pushes up your costs.

Another alternative is to outsource to a procurement provider, like allmanhall, who will manage suppliers, undertake ongoing analysis and provide insight updates to help you plan, throughout the year. We will help with budget management, negotiations around on pricing, terms and standards, and can also support your team with dietetic advice and menu design.

Food inflation is a reality for this year and will be into next academic year too. Coping strategies, addressing the things your school catering team can control, are therefore going to be essential. Re-assessing processes and menus may help your team to ensure catering budgets and food purchases go as far as possible.

For more information regarding food inflation, you may like to watch this helpful webinar from allmanhall.

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