How catering is gearing up for the 2012 Olympics

22 September 2010 by
How catering is gearing up for the 2012 Olympics

Jan Matthews, head of catering for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, talks to Janie Stamford about how the preparations are going for 2012

How are the preparations for 2012 going?

They are going very well. We are told by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and by a number of our sponsors that we are much further ahead than any other Olympics have been at this point for the catering programme. We hope to have the really big packages - the village, the press and broadcast centre, the Olympic parks north and south and the Olympic hospitality centre - all awarded by Christmas, along with a number of the smaller and external venues.

I went to Vancouver shortly after I was appointed at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) to get an idea of what they'd done and what to expect. The biggest piece of advice they gave was to give ourselves plenty of time, so we've made sure we're ahead of the curve.

There will be around 14 million meals served at the Games. Do you see the feeding as simply a necessary function?

When the organisers reviewed the Winter Olympics at Vancouver, they found that savouring the atmosphere was the first reason people wanted to go, but going out to eat was the second. I think a high standard of food delivery is essential because it can either add to, or detract from, the Games experience.

On top of that, there is the wider opportunity to show that we can move major event catering to another level by getting the right partners in the right place delivering the right food. That's why we've tendered 12 separate packages rather than looking for a master caterer to do the whole lot because that would just be mass catering, which isn't what we're looking for.

How much interest has there been from caterers given the concerns over profitability?

We've been really encouraged by the number of responses we've had to the tenders we put out from caterers of all types: national, international, regional, small and medium-sized businesses. We wanted to make sure it's not just open to the big players and encourage smaller companies to get involved, which they have. It's very much a partnership, unlike any other type of procurement I've been involved with, because we're not talking about a five-year deal, we're talking about 18 months of preparation and 77 days of delivery - or less in some cases.

Has the level of demand placed on the caterers put any of them off?

We sent out invitations to negotiate rather than to bid and we're helping contractors through the tender process. The demands are high because this is an immovable date. Delivery needs to be right from day one. Some companies have decided that they're not big enough or would need to get more resources to get involved, which some have done. Others have expressed an interest in being a tier two supplier.

We're looking to get a caterer that will oversee a venue and service a number of different client groups within that. There is potential for them to subcontract some of the client groups out to a smaller company that might be better equipped to service them. We want big companies working with smaller firms in order to facilitate our requirements.

What are the biggest challenges?

Helping people to get their heads around the scale of the Games has been hard, so we've broken it down into bite-size pieces. There is so much myth and legend that goes around about the Olympics from people who might have heard stories about people losing their shirt on the Sydney Games and it's just not the case.

We are committed to ensuring that our catering partners will not lose money because of anything we require of them that is not normally part of their everyday business practice and that is written into all of the contracts. We will pay for that because it's only right and proper.

Will caterers be expected to use suppliers sourced by Locog or will they bring their own preferred suppliers?

Last week, we went to the Speciality and Fine Food Fair at Olympia for a "meet the buyer" day with 16 small, regional producers from the UK. The quality of their produce was absolutely superb. If we tell the bid-winning caterers that we'd like them to use a particular product from a particular supplier and that costs them more money then we will look at the difference and make sure the caterers aren't out of pocket.

When we go to the IFE11 trade show at Excel in March next year, we'll be going with our appointed caterers with a view to showcasing the best that British food has to offer, because it's going to be British Food Fortnight for the two weeks of the Olympics.

How can the hospitality industry benefit from the Games long term?

As part of our Food Vision, we've asked caterers to work with education and colleges and that is happening across the board. There is a lot of dialogue with the Professional Association for Catering Education (PACE) and People 1st and companies are really excited about the legacy the Games can leave for the industry.

There have been questions raised over whether we will have enough trained staff and, actually, we will. Hospitality can benefit phenomenally in the long run if it puts in the mileage now and the industry has a responsibility to grab this opportunity to encourage youngsters into hospitality so that it can benefit post 2012.

the challenge

31 competition venues
â- 955 competition sessions
â- 160,000 workforce
â- 23,900 athletes and team officials
â- 20,600 broadcasters and press
â- 4,800 Olympic and Paralympic Family
â- 9 million ticket sales
â- 14 million meals
the sustainable games

The compehensive Food Vision document sets out a clear list of benchmark and aspirational environmental, ethical and animal welfare standards on which caterers must quote before Locog takes the decision over which one it takes. But in an effort to maximise profit margins, will fewer aspirational standards be met as a result?

"No decisions need to be made now," explains Matthews. "We're looking to identify where on the aspirational standards we can actually deliver and that might vary depending on client groups."

While visitors to the Olympics will be given an organic option, Locog will not choose organic products where the cost to the public is too high and risk sales. However, Matthews says that her team has come across organic and freedom food products that are extremely affordable.

"There will be elements of the aspirational standards across the whole of the Games. They're written into the tender process and they will be written into the contracts."

food quantities in the olympic village

â- 25,000 loaves of bread
â- 232 tonnes of potatoes
â- More than 82 tonnes of seafood
â- 31 tonnes of poultry items
â- More than 100 tonnes of meat
â- 75,000 litres of milk
â- 19 tonnes of eggs
â- 21 tonnes of cheese
â- More than 330 tonnes of fruit and vegetables

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