Caterers with a conscience

Kevin Watson, Managing Director of Amadeus, explains how the caterer aims to halve the amount of sugar in its foodservice operation by 2020

“Industry must go further and faster when it comes to sugar reduction – foodservice caterers like ourselves must share the responsibility of tackling the rising obesity crisis.”

Public Health England have recently challenged businesses to cut sugar by 20% by 2020.This announcement was made following a report from the government body that found children are consuming three times more sugar every day than they should, leading to weight gain and obesity. Currently, one in five children are overweight or obese when they start primary school and by the time they start secondary school that rises to one in three.

It’s clear that not only manufacturers, high street retailers and school meal providers, but also commercial foodservice caterers like ourselves, need to play a part in tackling the growing health crisis – not only when it comes to children, but consumers at large. That’s why Amadeus has pledged to reduce the amount of sugar in our foodservice operation not by 20%, but by 50%, by 2020. This will equate to removing seven tonnes of sugar, or 30 million calories, from our food chain in the next three years.

How will we do this? In a range of different ways – from revising our procurement policies to looking at our product offering across our diverse catering portfolio which includes catering for four million visitors a year as part of the NEC Group, over 30 external venues and at hundreds of events every year.

As of June this year, we began a process of revising all of our menus across the different venues we cater for, looking at ways in which sugar could be reduced or substituted in meals without compromising on flavour. So for example, we will be using natural sugars like honey and dried fruit instead of artificial sugars, but also reducing natural sugars where we can.

Moving forward, all new menus and recipes will be devised by our chef teams to strict sugar reduction guidelines. Some of the recent catering concepts we’ve launched such as our Pure brand, can not only be considered low sugar, but focus on ‘super foods’ that support the body’s ability to function at its optimum capacity. The menu features foods with slow release energy, which are high in omega 3 and low in cholesterol such as noodle soups, salad snack pots and vegetable smoothies. Earlier this year, the International Convention Centre (ICC) became the first conference venue to gain ‘Food for the Brain’ accreditation due to a menu we developed specifically to support mental wellbeing, concentration and performance. Accreditation from the educational charity is only given to organisations that also support employee training and communications to sustain a culture of nutritional awareness.

“Our main contribution to help tackle the issue is by aiding individuals to make positive food and drink choices that benefit their health.”

Along with reducing sugar in products, Public Health England also recommended that businesses should focus on reducing the portion size, and/or the number of calories in single-serve products as part of their report. So with this in mind, we’ve tasked our chef teams to look at where this might be possible across our portfolio.

Of course, creating great tasting meals that achieve our sugar reduction targets starts with procurement and using suppliers that we are proud to feature on our menus.  When engaging with manufacturers and suppliers we first want to know what is their approach to reducing sugar and we want to work with companies that share our dedication to the issue.

Another – and arguably one of the most integral recommendations to come out of the Public Health England report – was for those in the food industry to look at ways in which they can shift consumer purchasing patterns towards lower or no added sugar products. We have approached this task by testing promoting lower or no added sugar products over those with a higher sugar content – in this way, we are not dictating what customers should consume, but we are employing tactics that will help to enable customers to make healthier decisions when it comes to choosing what to eat and drink.

For example, we recently ran a trial at one of the arena venues we provide catering services for, the Genting Area in Birmingham, where we removed soft drinks with high sugar content from view in our fridges and on our tariff boards in favour of lower or no added sugar options. The higher sugar content versions of the products were still available to customers who wanted them, however, customers would have to specifically request for the product from staff as it would have been placed out of view. During the trial, we did not experience any complaints or negative feedback from customers and there is no doubt that removing the visibility of the higher sugar products led more people to purchase lower sugar, and therefore healthier, versions of the same product. Due to the success of this trial, we will be looking at rolling the approach out across all our venues moving forward.

While foodservice caterers do have a part to play in educating people about healthy eating and nutrition, I would argue that this responsibility rightly sits with our educational intuitions. As large-scale commercial caterers, I believe our main contribution to help tackle the issue is by aiding individuals to make positive food and drink choices that benefit their health through the catering offering we provide, whether that be by reducing portion size, including nutritional information on products or working with conscientious suppliers. Our pledge to tackle sugar consumption head on underlines our commitment to this. Right now, the industry needs to go much further and much faster when it comes to sugar reduction – only when all sectors of our industry step up to the plate and make changes will we start to see a real difference.