Alex Gould, Catering Manager, Great Barr School
James Millward, Commercial Director, McCormick (UK) Ltd

Ask a caterer and a supplier about the ‘big issue’ affecting school meals at the moment and you will get a very similar response, which is good to know because it means they will have a good chance of working together to offer a solution that is fit for purpose.

Alex Gould says, “We constantly have to drive home the importance of good nutrition to the pupils. And it is made all the more difficult because lunchtimes are no longer a traditional sit-down meal. We still make everything fresh, from scratch, but now offer much more to ‘grab and go’ in order to keep up with the latest trends and the off-site competition; obviously the food we prepare meets the nutritional requirements of various bodies. Our pricing is also more competitive, which helps to combat some of the effects of the recession; parents have less disposable income and we find they are turning more and more to packed lunches.”James Millward agrees, “As a supplier to the education sector we are very aware of the importance of good nutrition and ensuring our products meet the necessary guidelines. Local Education Authorities are also seeking more convenient solutions that save caterers time, as well as money.”

Over the years, nutrition in the education sector has been the focus of many a high profile media campaign and this has brought about numerous ‘guidelines’ being imposed on the operator. This must surely be a good thing? But to follow these guides, a lot of work needs to go on behind the scenes and caterers should take advantage of the resources available to them from suppliers to make compliance easier. James Millward says, “We find caterers are very receptive to new ideas and keen to provide healthy food for their pupils but they want to minimise the risk of low uptake and subsequent wastage, which impacts on gross profit. McCormick has extensive experience working in the education sector and can offer assistance to caterers to help them achieve this fine balance.

So, in order to meet the guidelines, stay within budget and satisfy the demands of a fickle consumer, what can caterers do? Alex says, “We try to present our food in a modern way, so use packaging that reflects the big brands on the high street, incorporate meal deals into the menu, have tasting sessions to demonstrate that healthy can also be tasty and communicate with the pupils to learn about their likes and dislikes.”James adds, “We communicate directly with caterers in order to stay in touch and learn first-hand what their issues are so we can come up with a suitable solution with them. One of the most successful methods has been with one-to-one sessions. In Alex’s case, our development chef, Steve Love, went to visit her when she was faced with a re-vamp of her food offering. He introduced her to our Schwartz for Chef Recipe Mixes and demonstrated how they can be used in imaginative ways. They sampled the dishes that he created with the pupils and the result is that Alexis now serving a number of those dishes; stir fried noodles are flying out of the door!”Great Barr School is a great example of how supplier and operator can work together. James concludes, “Understanding the customer and the parameters in this marketplace is the key to success. By directly communicating with caterers, we have been able to develop solutions that work for them but also enlighten them about our range and how they can be used more creatively.”

Alex adds, “If I had to give a tip to others operating in this sector, I’d say speak to your suppliers frequently to find out what’s new; ask them for help and advice. Steve’s been brilliant and we will continue to work with McCormick into the future. Also, visit other school kitchens in your area to share ideas and hold regular tasting sessions with your customers.”

Schwartz for Chef Recipes Mixes are available in Mediterranean Herb, Moroccan, Tex Mex, Indian Curry, Savoury Mince and Chilli varieties and recently won the Food and Drink category at Hotelympia’s Innovation Awards. They enable caterers to easily create deliciously flavoursome dishes which are healthy, with no compromise on taste, time effectively. They contain no artificial preservatives and are low salt, and because of stringent quality control processes, can be added to a dish at any stage of the recipe, even just before serving. One Recipe Mix can have many applications; as a coating, topping, ingredient, in a butter or in mayonnaise as a dip. Each is made from a high quality selection of herbs and spices, packed in portion controlled sachets.