Food for thought

Pete Roythorne looks at how Bethnal Green Technical College dealt with its eye-watering catering bill

In May 2003, Alan Rose, deputy headteacher at Bethnal Green Technical College, began to investigate the handling of his catering service. The college was over its catering budget by pound;65,000, which included pound;35,000 spent on temporary and cover staff. On top of this, the admin of dealing with up to six separate food suppliers was becoming overwhelming.

Enter Supply Direct, which currently supplies the food and know-how for a number of NHS trusts, as well as an increasing number of schools via its innovative web service. The company has worked with the college to produce a 28-day menu cycle that takes account of the ethnically diverse local community. It also worked alongside the school's dietician to ensure that this menu represents a healthy nutritional balance.

Supply Direct works alongside the school's existing catering team, so the school still has ultimate control of what's going on. All catering manager Ophelia Gervais has to do is go online and type in the number of covers required for each menu item and the system then orders up the requisite amounts of the ingredients. These ingredients are then checked against the existing stock the school holds and the remainder of the orders are placed with suppliers and rolling delivery dates are set up. However, the school still has the power to change menus and adapt or cancel items through Supply Direct's online portal.

The company works with local suppliers for all the fresh produce - for example all the school's halal food is sourced from companies around East London - and centralised national suppliers for the dried and frozen goods.

So the local economy benefits, and the school's budget benefits from the competitive pricing structures of Supply Direct's increased buying power.

And, crucially for the college, someone else deals with all the admin - they just get the one invoice from Supply Direct. The college is now running to budget.

Oh, and a word here about training: the kitchen may not be where you expect to find the most ICT-literate staff. So Supply Direct gives full on-the-job training to get your staff proficient in the system. Furthermore, Supply Direct's system can provide full kitchen production sheets, so if any new chef comes in they can download recipes and know exactly what quantities to prepare. The company can even provide cover if necessary.

The school is soon to have a cashless system installed which will help cut down the number of staff needed in the canteen during lunch times. But also, at a time when the diet of the country's children is hitting the headlines on a daily basis, there are other implications here. At another of Supply Direct's clients, Cornelius Vermuyden School and Arts College, Canvey Island, the cash-less system allows the school to track exactly what students are eating, so they can help children who are eating badly.

Seeing children voluntarily picking up salad is hopefully a sight that will not be restricted to these schools. As this journalist discovered, school dinners sure ain't what they used to be - and that can only be a good thing.

For more information visit:

Or contact one of the schools already using the system:

* Alan Rose

Deputy head, Bethnall Green Technical College

Tel: 020 7920 7900

* Nick Parker

Catering manager

Cornelius Vermuyden School

Tel: 01268 680679

* Martyn Keane

Head teacher

Gower House School

Tel: 020 8205 2509

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