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Host catering sees bright future in care homes

04 April 2008 by

Contract caterer Host sees a bright future in care homes. Rosalind Mullen spoke to founder Jerry Brand

When Jerry Brand, managing director of Host Contract Management, launched the company in 2004, he put most of his effort into building up contracts in the business and industry sector. Now, with a turnover of £22m a year, he's turning his sights on care homes.

It's no secret that Britain's population is ageing. CareAware UK claims that long-term care for the over-65s is estimated to cost £42b a year, and more than three-quarters of this is the value of care provided, unpaid, by informal carers. By 2031, the number of people over the age of 80 in the UK is expected to have increased by 65%.

Large budgets

"There are figures out there such as that, in 10 years' time, it could cost £250,000 to look after your parents," says Brand. "Presumably, the Government will have to help. What it means, though, is that the care home market will grow and we will be in charge of large budgets."

Host's most recent contract win is the three Lilian Faithfull care homes in Cheltenham, which have 72-, 69- and 35-bed capacities respectively. The value of the three-year contract is £700,000 a year.

The contracts had been with a previous caterer for about 25 years, but the tender was swayed in Brand's favour by his pledge to control food costs. Clearly, no caterer can escape the current inflated food prices, but Brand reckons that there are ways around them.

In short, he offered the homes full transparency using his Caternet e-procurement system. Launched in 2001, when Brand was running his previous company, Russell & Brand, the system offers customers real-time pricing and access to local catering suppliers. Clients can check their accounts through a secure website on the day a transaction takes place, rather than facing a big bill six weeks later when nothing can be done. It therefore allows care home managers to move into Caternet's net pricing zone for reassurance that they are getting produce at the best price.

Although some might wonder what the cost of licensing this software is, Brand has the figures to back his claims. Some 52 Sanctuary care homes have adopted Caternet and, over one year, he says that the system has saved them 23.5% on annual food costs. The catering at the not-for-profit care home provider is managed in-house, with Caternet handling an estimated £1.3m net-priced purchasing operation and charging a percentage of turnover as commission.

"A standard contractor will buy food and do the accounts at the end of the month," explains Brand. "But Caternet is real-time, so it shows the care home manager what is being spent and it allows them to control the food bill on a weekly or even daily basis. They don't have to buy something they can't afford."

He adds: "Fingertip control - that is the future. Caternet has transparency, so it's as close to in-house catering as you can get. We are growing the area. It will be a wonderful market for us."

Tackling nutrition

But how is he tackling nutrition, bearing in mind that one of the biggest issues in care homes at the moment is the battle against malnutrition among the elderly? According to a Liberal Democrat survey, as many as 60,000 of the 441,067 adults in care are malnourished. In response to that, last year the National Association of Care Catering launched a care home manual, and in October the Government launched the first nutrition action plan aimed at tackling malnutrition among care home residents.

Brand says that there is a nutritional analysis model within Caternet which has menus, costs and recipes, and gives a recommended-daily-allowance analysis of food. "It's great, so long as the chef follows the recipe," says Brand.

Host also pledges to provide 80% fresh food every day, so fish, meat and most vegetables are fresh rather than processed. Even bread is baked on site. "The future of care home catering is in e-business and fresh food, but not a lot of people are grasping that," says Brand. "We need good people, fresh food and real-time information."

And Brand recognises that, because the care home market is set to grow, it is more important than ever that the perennial challenge - to retain and develop staff - is tackled.

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