How can schools continue to deliver meals that are healthy, affordable and appealing with current rates of inflation?

Earlier this month the press reported that inflationary pressures for schools was impacting on their ability to deliver School Food Standard compliant meals.

Staple ingredients used by school caterers, such as minced beef, pasta, oil, frozen vegetables and fish were some of the worst affected, with caterers seeing price increases of between 20 to 30%.*

Food inflation has been compounded by labour costs which have risen by 12%, gas costs by 20% and electricity costs by 30% *. Schools are faced with no choice but to review their menus and ingredients, with many removing some of the more expensive but healthier items.

But what can schools really do about this? Budgets simply can’t keep stretching and something has to give. We’re working with many schools and helping them with cost management.

Joe Parfitt Managing Partner of Education at The Litmus Partnership believes that whilst these problems represent a significant challenge they can be minimised with the right approach. “The first thing that can be done is a benchmark review of a school’s supplier costs, for both food and non-food items. This will help identify whether prices reflect best value.  These benchmarking reviews should be conducted on a regular basis, ideally quarterly, with the market being as volatile as it is.  Schools can then challenge and renegotiate with their suppliers and in some cases seek alternatives, reducing ranges to achieve better prices on high volume products”.

“Once schools’ purchasing is on a stronger footing, they should look to increase the uptake of meals to maximise revenue. There are 9m pupils in England, an increase of 88,000 from the previous year. This is an expanding market, but the opportunity continues to be growing participation. A 1% increase in participation, with a meal price of £2.41, would deliver an additional £41m income a year to the sector, helping to offset schools’ operating costs as well as feeding an extra 90,000 pupils a nutritious meal”.

“A foodservice review will help identify on-trend menu ideas, alternative cuts of meat or recipes that bring the average meal cost down, whilst still maintaining nutritional integrity.  Compliance with the School Food Standards is obligatory and yet few schools actually do comply to the letter. Ofsted are increasingly including compliance with the School Food Standards in their inspections, so schools need to be on the front foot and genuinely seek to make their food offers nutritious as well as appealing to pupils”.

“We also see a pressing need for schools to invest in training and upskilling of catering teams, to both improve quality and control costs. A skilled workforce will be less reliant on ready-prepared ingredients, which can be costly, especially bought-in plant-based products”.

“We have worked with thousands of schools. In fact, every year we manage in excess of 150 Public Contract Regulated (formerly OJEU) compliant catering and cleaning tenders on behalf of UK schools – more than any other consultancy”.

“Litmus Purchasing Solutions help schools grow revenue with the peace of mind that purchasing activity is well managed; in terms of supplier relationships and product cost, but also by maintaining business processes that ensure control and compliance”.

For any schools looking for help responding to the rising costs whilst delivering meals that are healthy, affordable and appealing please contact Joe Parfitt at The Litmus Partnership.

*LACA cost of living & supply chain survey 2022