Balancing the integrity of the supply chain

Kathryn Pell-Walpole, director of sales for independent niche caterer Wilson Vale, explores the pros and cons of sourcing locally

Provenance and traceability are key concerns for any organisation, but all the more so for schools, who want the best for pupils and staff. The integrity of the food on the plate has a direct impact on the quality of the offer – and on the health and wellbeing of those eating it.

There are also warning signs to indicate that a caterer’s purchasing policy may be less than ideal. For example, if there is a large percentage of frozen food, ready-made foods, packet mixes and branded, bought-in cakes, you have to question the nutritional content. These items can also flag up a highly centralised purchasing policy, which means the on-site catering manager doesn’t have control over where food is coming from and has a restricted choice of products.

There are many benefits to sourcing locally. A school can gain a marketing edge and CSR kudos from supporting suppliers within the local community, food miles are kept to a minimum and using fresh, locally sourced produce ensures maximum nutrition.

In an ideal world, everything would be sourced locally but budgets don’t always stretch to accommodate aspirations – and there are downsides. Think of all of those individual delivery vans on the roads, for a start. Availability is another possible concern.

The key is to support locally whenever possible and ensure an accountable wider supply chain. At Wilson Vale we have over 250 small producers on our books, many of whom are family-owned enterprises. Wherever and whenever possible, we use local and regional suppliers because this ensures that our supplies are traceable and in season. When it comes to national sourcing, our meat is farm-assured and sourced from a network of NCB-accredited butchers while our fish comes from Marine Stewardship Council fishing grounds to ensure sustainability.

Like everything, balance is the key and it is essential to have the right craft skills in-house to ensure that the ingredients are used efficiently and creatively for maximum flavour and nutrition.

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