Get on your marks

25/10/2015 - 02:57
The Soil Association’s Catering Mark is increasingly recognised as the industry standard for local, seasonal, affordable, healthy and organic food. Martin Sawyer, the organisation’s new chief executive for certification, explains why.

We can’t afford to forget the importance of sustainable healthy catering in business, education and our communities. Caterers can really help deliver this change. More than a third of our daily calories are consumed outside of the home, and a healthy eating option is often hard to find.

I believe everyone should have access to good, healthy food that is local, seasonal and affordable. The Soil Association’s Food for Life Catering Mark gives caterers the guidance to take steps to provide more fresh, nutritious, environmentally sustainable British meals to public sectors across the UK.

More than one million Catering Mark meals are already served every workday in schools, hospitals, nurseries, universities, workplaces and care homes, but we cannot stop there.

Soaring NHS costs and countless studies showing the link between diet and health are driving awareness of what we should be putting into our bodies. People are asking more from their food, and the industry needs to respond.

There are now over 7,000 schools, 300 nurseries, 40 universities and 100-plus care home and hospital settings with a Catering Mark – all successfully taking steps to improve their food.

Workplaces, venues and restaurants are also recognising the importance of an independent verification, and with the other benefits that come with the Mark – reducing a business’s carbon footprint, contributing towards corporate social responsibility targets, working with more local and seasonal ingredients – caterers are gaining more customers, and foodservice providers are winning more contracts.

It’s not just people who are demanding good, healthy meals; the government has committed to improving food standards. Many of the meals consumed outside the home are in the public sector, where people have less choice about what they eat, and where good-quality food is often most needed.

The Department for Education gave the Catering Mark a key role in delivering the government’s School Food Plan. The Catering Mark has also been cited in NHS England’s 2014/15 guidance for commissioners and care providers as a way to support hospitals to raise food standards and achieve the new Hospital Food Commissioning for Quality and Innovation – a mark of clinical excellence.

This means that hospitals can access substantial central government funds for excellence in food provision on the basis of adopting the Catering Mark.

On top of public demand and support from the government, there are some very special individuals helping to improve the food that we eat. Recently, I met some of our award-winning Catering Mark Champions who are leading the way in foodservice, making real change happen.

Good food is a right, not a privilege, and the Catering Mark is giving these people the tools to serve better food, with fewer harmful additives or trans fats, and more of the good stuff.

At least 75% of meals on a Catering Mark menu are freshly prepared from unprocessed ingredients, putting the emphasis on good cooking and good sourcing, and not using pre-prepared foods, which often contain more additives and preservatives that are bad for our health.

Freshly cooked food is not just better value but better quality as well, and still easy and cheap to produce. Planning, cooking and serving freshly made food has benefits that extend much further than the kitchen – to providing staff with more skills and job satisfaction, and building community spirit.

Local, sustainable, higher welfare products are key, and each are rewarded at Bronze, Silver and Gold levels of the scheme, with points for ethical and environmentally friendly food, like Fairtrade, LEAF, MSC and organic.

The standards are sector-specific, making it easier to apply the Catering Mark to different areas of foodservice. A caterer can choose to source more local ingredients, or more organic, working towards a Silver or Gold Catering Mark with their and their customers priorities at heart.

The Catering Mark is changing catering – an industry previously driven by cost is now motivated by quality and local procurement. The scheme provides a significant boost to the British farming industry, with more than £40 million spent on British ingredients each year.

Figures show the growing demand for healthier, sustainable food in the UK food sector; the annual wholesale value of Red Tractor meat and meat products sold into Catering Mark supply chains is over £23 million and, collectively, Catering Mark holders annually spend more than £7 million on organic ingredients and nearly £4 million on free-range and Freedom Food-certified meat.

To help caterers find suitable ingredients to meet standards, the Soil Association has developed the Supplier Scheme, which links with suppliers and also offers new routes to market for food producers.

I believe that with an even more joined-up approach, we can build the basis for a better food community. I want to see the food revolution that began in schools to cross to hospitals, workplaces and more public places. As Oliver Twist said, “More please.”

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