Viewpoint

THERE’S THIS performance artist, and eating is his current medium. He’s eating his wardrobe. Time isn’t an issue. He’s focused on the long game. Every day, he sands down a bit more of his wardrobe and sprinkles the accumulated dust on his food. He derives a visceral thrill from it all. It’s a commitment to his art but it’s not playing to an audience.

Foodservice Footprint P-Davies-300x200 Viewpoint Comment Foodservice News and Information

It’s a bit like some of the contract caterers out there. The good things they do remain largely invisible. And because bad makes a better story than good in the broadcast media, we only hear those stories about contract caterers that feed our school children turkey twizzlers, hospital patients shoddy grub and the Army lazy food. They don’t linger on the stories of how well sourced their raw materials are or how they regenerate the places from where they grow their crops, or that they encourage healthy eating for organisations ranging from places of education to temples of finance to theatres of the celebrated.

That’s too bad. Particularly when there are some remarkably good things that contract caterers do. Aside from feeding four billion people a year, pick up any Annual Report and there’ll be a section devoted to all things green, environmental and sustainable. With their CSR Reports they really do go to town on these subjects too. Ensuring reductions in water and energy used in their offices, reducing the CO2 used in their vehicle fleets, reducing food miles by increasing the use of seasonally available products sourced from the relevant domestic market. Websites have acres of digital real estate devoted to wellness and nutrition.

In trying to display their green commitments, part of the problem for contact caterers is that they’re under the radar. It’s easy for Tesco and their green labelling, or Mars and their Fairtrade stuff. Unlike their consumer-facing contemporaries, not many people have heard of Sodexo, or Compass or even Unilever Food Solutions.

Many opportunities exist to use the consumer facing brand and experience in order to promote, even subtly, the contract catering group brand behind it. They could do this much in the same way that Unilever has used its group brand to underscore product brands like Persil or Cif or Comfort. Or they could simply push further forward their own brand, at the point of consumer engagement, to begin a deeper understanding of them.

I’d suggest that they all look at their own brands. Almost without exception, contract catering brands look rather miserable, unimaginative and dull. A refreshed approach to presentation would be needed, a stronger story would need to be told and then, in time, the awareness for the good things they do will be appreciated. They’ll no longer have to be in defence mode each time a TV chef decides to do an exposé on national TV on healthy eating.

The thing is there’s an art to catering. And sometimes, just as in the very best restaurant, it’s okay to invite patrons into the kitchen.

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