Thursday, September 15, 2011

Multi-million dollar opportunity looms for enterprising food service providers!

Money makes the world go around, right?

Here's hoping that in the case of school food, that's true.

Two days ago I helped out with a story by CTV's Avis Favaro. It was about a school in my neck of the woods that no longer has a cafeteria.

It seems that their food service provider, Brown's Dining Solutions, decided that they themselves were incapable of providing schools with healthier fare (as dictated by the new Ontario School Food Policy) and still make a profit.

To me that statement's shocking. It's shocking because the new Ontario School Food Policy is so unbelievably watered down that even Pizza Pizza managed to nearly instantaneously conform. If they could do it, virtually overnight, why not Brown's?

So how nutritionally lacking was Brown's food to begin with?

According to the CTV story, Brown's reports that 80% of what they used to sell would now be gone.

Can you imagine just how nutritiously bereft Brown's Dining Solutions foods must have been if this incredibly weak school food policy nixes 80% of them?

Brown's decision to bail also shocks me because I would have thought that their response to the changes, just like Pizza Pizza's, would have been to rapidly reformulate and keep selling ever so slightly less awful foods.

Not the folks at Brown's. Apparently they are either unwilling or unable to figure out how to make profitable, tasty, healthy foods.

I'm also guessing Brown's won't be the only outfit to choose caving over creativity.

And therein lies the opportunity.

I would imagine that there are enormous profits to be made in the establishment of a company that's capable of crafting and delivering delicious, fresh, and healthy cafeteria fare. School food reform is hopefully only in its infancy and I'd wager too, we'll see similar reforms trickle over time into our other public institutions (hospitals, government buildings, etc).

My thought?

If I was a medium sized local grocer, many of who are already trying to carve out niches for themselves as healthier, and purposely carry more local and/or organic produce, crafting lower sodium supermarket takeout and ready made meals, etc., I'd consider getting involved with the schools, even if at the start it's only on a small, local, couple of schools level.

The grocer would already have the connections and the knowledge to actively purchase and price local produce, they'd already understand how to cook ready made meals in large volumes, and likely have mechanisms in place that dictate menus based on regularly changing produce pricing and availability. They would also likely be able to parlay their involvement in schools into media friendly publicity and at the same time, ingratiate themselves with parents and multiple, recurrent generations of children.

I'm not saying any of this would be easy, and I'm sure Brown's and anyone else out truly do have real barriers to overcome, but I simply can't believe they're insurmountable.

Sounds like one hell of an opportunity.

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  1. Roman Korol8:17 am

    The problem is, of course, far deeper than a mere lack of business acumen on the part of a caterer like Brown's. The entire food supply system, from processor to consumer, is predicated on a junk food foundation. Brown's is merely a link in that chain and his most cost-effective route to success is to follow the yellow brick road that's already laid out for him by others.

    Handing the business under present conditions over to other "Brown's"-es probably won't cut it. Reform has to take place all the way up the line for the changes to actually work, and include also changes in deceptive food marketing practices and myriads of other interrelated aspects over which Brown has no control. True it is, a lifetime's journey begins with the first step, but will the goal ever be realized within our lifetimes, even?

  2. I love the idea of healthier food but my son tells me that they introduced it last year at his school and now everyone who can leave the school (I think Grade 9 and up) go to the Pizza joint and Subway that is a short walk. Apparently the pizza at the school is awful.

    He informs me that he sells coke out of his locker (not the white powder, the brown liquid). It is amazing the lengths people will go to avoid healthy (and lets face it, less tasty) options.

    As a parent, I know that he will either eat/drink unhealthy stuff at school with my permission or without.

    But my meandering point is that the high school cafeterias will be losing quite a bit of business with the new policies. If the food doesn't taste good most of the schools are within walking distance of a fast food place. I can understand Brown's point. I know it costs me more to cook healthy meals than junk food.

    It may be an opportunity but the margins are a lot thinner.

  3. Connie it does NOT cost more to cook a healthy meal. How can you possibly say this? Healthy meals are very easy to prepare. I am doing research into cancer drugs and dichloroacetate (google it) is basically the healthy meal equivalent. Simple, easy to get, and inexpensive.