School caterers hit with price rises 'of up to 70%' over past year

31 May 2023 by
School caterers hit with price rises 'of up to 70%' over past year

School caterers are increasingly concerned they will struggle to meet mandatory food standards over the next three to six months due to soaring inflation and supply issues.

Brad Pearce, managing director of LACA, which consists of over 900 members who serve three million school lunches daily, said school caterers had seen price increases of "between 50 and 70%" across all food categories over the past 12 months.

He told The Caterer: "That's had a huge impact on how we provide services with substitutions and food shortages. Members have had to work really creatively to adjust menus and reformulate recipes."

In March, a survey of LACA members found 19% were finding it increasingly difficult to meet mandatory school food standards, an increase of 12.5% from November, amid rising prices.

Pearce said this was "really worrying and concerning" as caterers had yet to see the "peak" of the issues.

Pearce said caterers had turned to serving more plant-based options, as the price of chicken had gone up by 25% since 2020, while the price of gammon had increased by 19% over the same period.

They have also been replacing minced beef with pulses and lentils to "maintain protein levels but reduce meat content".

The onset of avian flu has pushed the price of eggs up by 37% in the past year while Pearce said the cost of pasta, a "staple ingredient" in school meals, had risen by 72% over the past two and a half years.

However, with current funding at £2.41 a meal for universal infant free school meals, compared to £2.30 when the scheme was first introduced in 2014, Pearce said caterers were concerned about being able to continue to provide quality meals to children with limited budget.

"The available funding for those meals is currently too low and we're not like a restaurant or a café, we can't simply say ‘let's increase the price'," he added.

"There's a huge process to go through in terms of notifying parents of a change in the price of a meal and we're limited to doing that twice a year only."

According to research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies published in March, the funding rate for free school meals would now be £2.87 had it increased in line with inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index.

Caterers of different sizes across the country have called for action and an increase in school meal funding to avoid a decline in food quality.

Image: PJaruwan / Shutterstock

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