With the prospect of rising food costs, Rachael Venditti from allmanhall (www.allmanhall.co.uk), the leading independent food procurement specialist, looks at how caterers can become more efficient in their operational practices to ease the pressure of food inflation.
Operational practices and processes
Firstly, consider revisiting your existing operational practices with a real focus on their financial benefit. During the pandemic kitchens had to adapt to an ever-changing environment that was outside of their control and devised systems that could cope with the guidelines laid down by the Government. Many of these changes have remained following the relaxing of rules, but now would be good time to revisit these changes to see if further improvements can be made to enable a more cost effective and efficient operation.
Kitchen practices can be enhanced and made more efficient by reviewing, and where possible improving, your team’s skills, through upskilling. For example, a talented chef who is skilled and motivated in the kitchen will be more cost effective than bringing in pre-packaged products.
Consider reviewing how your teams are approaching stock management to see if there are opportunities to minimise holding stock and reduce wastage. Food waste can be a big unnecessary expense, along with being an environmental issue, whether this is kitchen waste or waste from meals, so review and improve how wastage is recorded and managed.
Give consideration to your long-term capital investment strategy with regard to equipment. Using modern equipment can really drive cost efficiencies. New technologies may seem like a big cost upfront but will ultimately generate a return on investment as they use less energy, cook more efficiently and support waste reduction and help your catering team to optimise yield.
Recipes and menus
Real impact on food costs can be made through smart and effective recipe engineering, with restricted menus. Now more than ever, it is time to make adjustments that have no negative impact on quality or taste but can shave off unnecessary costs. Recipes are an important way of managing costs, improving quality, managing dietary requirements, ensuring consistency and reducing wastage.
Consider reviewing the product specifications of the products you use without reducing the quality of a finished dish. For example, are class 1 vegetables really needed if they are being chopped up and put into a dish or could wonky vegetables be used instead. High spend categories such as meat can be reduced or substituted, replacing 95vl mince with 90vl, and vegetarian dishes offered as an alternative. Review the need for luxury items and use own brand rather than branded goods.
Consider asking your suppliers for alternatives for sampling and test your options.
By undergoing a recipe review you can challenge your recipes and assess whether ingredients be reduced or removed without compromising the dish.
Start to think about your menu cycles with the food cost for each dish taken into consideration. You will quickly identify those high-cost dishes and whether they can be adapted to reduce overall menu costs. Understanding changes in product pricing helps to influence your recipes and menus. For example, eggs and poultry are a particular risk area at present. Ensure you stay abreast of these things and adapt your menu accordingly.
Communicating and sharing the challenges associated with rising food costs with your team and, importantly, your diners is really important. This will help to provide further understanding and will support any menu changes or required tariff increases you are compelled to introduce as food inflation steadily rises and impacts your costs.
Another alternative is to outsource to a procurement provider, who manage suppliers, undergoing analysis and insight updates throughout the year on food pricing, and can deliver dietetic advice and menu design.
Food inflation is a reality for this year. Coping strategies, addressing the things you can control, are therefore going to be key. Re assessing operations and menus may help your catering budgets and food purchases go as far as possible.