Finding ways to manage food inflation

Katrina Lane, allmanhall’s Senior Relationship Manager (and previously Head of Catering & Hospitality at Winchester College), takes a look at practical advice for school caterers to combat the very real challenge of food inflation, shortages and rising prices.

Undeniably, the cost of food has increased and will continue to do so into the Michaelmas term. allmanhall have already spent the summer negotiating down supplier price notifiers on behalf of school clients. Even with cost increase mitigation, price rises are a reality across a weighted basket. Only when the Producer Input and Output Prices soften and become lower than CPI, we can expect general food inflation to start to reduce. As you are already likely acutely aware, these rising costs are having an impact on the school canteen menu.

It was commendable to see how school caterers adapted during the pandemic. However, the ongoing staffing crisis leaves many caterers struggling to find creative chefs able to make low-cost innovative adaptions to their menus. And such adaptations are going to be essential this academic year.

Availability of some products is causing concerns for school catering teams needing to manage allergens and special diets, as subsidised products are not always the cheaper option.

When substitutions are made, it’s important to consider false savings, however. For example, by switching to a different product, will yield be reduced? Is more of a new product required to achieve the same flavour? Understanding the false economies and trying to sample products before making the change are simple steps school caterers can make and we are supporting our clients to do just that.


 It’s so important for school caterers to have information regarding which products are stable and which are volatile when it comes to price movement. allmanhall are providing such information and also advice regarding what to buy. For example, having a greater proportion of stable products making up your menus will make it easier to manage and predict the impact of rising prices. Typically, stable products are negotiated annually, such as solid pack apples whereas volatile products fluctuate more frequently, such as butter and bacon.

There is a real risk that chefs are being forced to reduce or change fresh quality ingredients, impacting the variety and choice in menus. Creating nutritious, balanced menus that meet the school food standards will become increasingly difficult to achieve.

Some caterers are completely removing beef from their menus owning to price surges that have caused even staple meat products such as minced beef to rise quite considerably. Whilst cheaper cuts of meat like chicken and pork remain on the menu, they are being served less often.

We’re seeing switches being made to plant-based recipes and products. The reduction in red meat on menus is a positive thing not only from a budgeting perspective but also from one of sustainability. They are often a cheaper option than meat-based alternatives, and they also have a longer shelf life, thus reducing waste…

Food waste can be a big unnecessary expense, as well as a sustainability issue. A number of our schools are reviewing and improving how wastage is recorded and managed, using our catering control platform and other such tools. Stock management reviews identify if there are opportunities to minimise holding stock and reduce wastage.

Now more than ever, schools are thinking about their menu cycles with the food cost for each dish taken into consideration. High-cost dishes are being identified and adapted where possible to reduce overall menu costs. Understanding changes in product pricing is helping to influence recipes and menus. For example, eggs and poultry were a particular risk area earlier this year and we saw a number of clients adapt their menus accordingly to reduce reliance and use of these products. We’re helping clients stay abreast of the market pricing trends and insights to help them plan well:


Whilst caterers continue to face cascading challenges, expert support has never been so important. There is a harsh spotlight on caterers that do not have good procurement practices in place, so despite chefs working tirelessly to cost recipes, source the cheapest ingredients, manage portion control and waste, some will continue to struggle to produce healthy food at a low cost without the experience of a procurement team to manage and negotiate price increases for them.

While allmanhall continue negotiating to minimise and hold off proposed price increases wherever possible, we are also supporting practical ways for schools to help minimise the impact of food inflation.

There are 3 key areas we at allmanhall are recommending school catering teams focus on ensuring they are efficient in:

  1. supply chain
  2. operational practices
  3. recipes / menus

We are supporting a number of school clients to tender suppliers, consolidate suppliers in some instances and also operate dual supply where more appropriate. One of the key areas we are helping schools with is range management and ‘reducing the tail’. We’re also helping schools reduce their cost to serve. This is the cost for a supplier to make a delivery, which is linked to the prices that will be achievable.

For those unable to absorb the increasing costs, many will need to review and change longstanding practices, and implement workarounds to meet budget demands, which is why it’s so important that caterers work with their suppliers to keep costs down and maintain a quality service.

Can your school afford not to work with a procurement expert at this time? Why not speak to allmanhall for support…

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