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LACA survey finds school caterers ‘increasingly concerned’ by rising costs

17 May 2023
Following a survey, caterers have told LACA that they are ‘increasingly concerned’ about the future of their school meals service especially in rural areas where transport costs place extra pressure on provision.

LACA has released their updated cost of living survey, which received a response from 87 caterers, who provide services across more than 11,500 schools and feed 1.1 million pupils every day.

LACA has been running these surveys since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with members repeatedly saying that due to rising food costs and difficult supply chains, food shortages and substitutions have become the norm. However, LACA members are now stating there is very little room for manoeuvre, with many caterers facing a precipice.

That is why LACA has launched their ‘if not now, when?’ mission, calling for the Government to urgently increase funding to cover increasing food costs, kitchen infrastructure and labour costs. This has received backing from across the school meals industry.

Commenting on this report, chair of LACA Brad Pearce said: “This survey highlights why funding for school meals must urgently increase, if caterers are to continue delivering a hot, healthy and nutritious provision to children.

“The current allocated funding of £2.41 for Universal Infant Free School Meals and £2.47 for benefit based Free School Meals is falling short. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that if costs had kept up with inflation, the price of a school meal would be £2.87. Action by Government is needed now.”

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 77% of members have had to change their menus, whilst 26% have had to reduce choice on the menu. Items most affected by shortages include staple items such as eggs, tomatoes, fish, chicken, and cucumbers.
  • Since November 2022, LACA’s members have experienced a further 20% increase in the cost of food. This is on top of the additional rises reported last year of over 50%.
  • Around 98% of LACA members are still facing food shortages and substitutions from their supply chains.
  • 29% of LACA members revealed that they have substituted their meat with alternatives such as lentils and pulses, with 8% reducing portion size.
  • A worrying 19% of respondents are concerned that meeting school food standards in full is becoming increasingly difficult. This is a huge increase from the 12.5% previously reported to LACA in November.
  • 13% of LACA members had said that they were switching from British meat to meat from abroad and a further 28% are considering doing so.

LACA Members can view the full survey here.