With National School Meals Week planned for November, Mark Lewis met the chairman of the Local Authority Caterers Assocation, Neil Porter, to talk about how this year's event will take on a very different character.
Why are you using the theme "Get involved"?
LACA is delighted that, yet again, England, Scotland and Wales will be taking part, so we can really call it "National" School Meals Week; and we want everyone to "get involved", whether they are members of LACA already or a self-managed school that is thinking about joining.
We all have a responsibility to support schools as part of a whole-school approach, and school lunches are a key part of the day. These are challenging times with meal numbers, especially in secondary schools, so this event is important because all the ideas can be used to increase meal numbers.
The style of the week has changed dramatically this year. Why is that?
LACA realised that there were some major changes taking place. The traditional tools of marketing are now being used to drive people to the new media channels online. We are in a digital age where we need to understand terms like "natural search", "search engine optimisation", "social networking" and "user-generated content".
It is vital that school caterers embrace these concepts, and we thought LACA should take the lead. There are a whole range of materials that will be online that caterers can use, and we will also be offering free online training. There will be "webinars" (web seminars) to support what is happening during the week, and also about the new tools of digital marketing.
How are you financing the week?
LACA has fantastic support from its partners. They really make the week possible, and I would like to say a personal thank-you to all of them.
These partners are food and equipment suppliers who provide support during the year. We are using money that they have provided and we have also received financial support from the School Food Trust and the Association of Service Solutions In Scotland Facilities Management (Assist FM).
What do you have planned for the week?
First, we want to find the most popular school meal and dessert. We will be encouraging people to vote online, and the results will be announced at the start of the week. We also hope to provide regional variances.
On the Tuesday we will encourage pupils to go online and watch School Chef of the Year Debbie Mumford from Ermington Primary School in Devon.
On Wednesday we will have a high-profile sports personality encouraging students to get active; and on the Thursday there is a competition for students to win £350 by making an advert to promote the new healthy school meals.
On Friday primary school pupils can download thank-you cards, colour them in, add comments and then give them to their school caterers, who will award certificates for the best ones and cook their favourite lunch.
How will you create awareness of the week?
How can suppliers get involved?
For the first time we have an online suppliers' directory. This enables suppliers, for a fee, to provide details of their products and services and show how they are supporting the week. There are three packages ranging from £100 to £400.
Your time as LACA chairman comes to an end at the LACA conference. What would be your final message to your members and school caterers?
Please register online and show you are supporting the week, and get colleagues, caterers, teachers, family and friends voting online so we can really find Britain's most popular school meal.
Who should caterers contact if they need more information?