The contract catering industry through healthy eyes

As the full-time nutritionist for Gather & Gather, Kate Taylor sees the foodservice industry from a slightly different perspective. The number of government initiatives relating to nutrition and best practices for foodservice companies has increased her workload in the past eighteen months. Kate discusses the challenges and rewards of working as a nutritionist in the industry

Health and nutrition have become major drivers for policy change in the UK and the Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal has acted as a beacon for businesses to review their approach to the provision of foodservice. Yet, the debate is often split between recognition of the broader scope towards health in society, and the practicalities of customer expectation. Within the foodservice industry there are increasing numbers of retailers and caterers alike undertaking major reviews of food development and promotion of health.

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Kate occupies a dynamic role within Gather & Gather, having been part of a successful brand re-launch and the mobilisation of a new leadership team. So what role does she see the foodservice industry playing in terms of responding constructively to this trend?

“The contract catering industry is in an interesting position at the moment, we are in continual competition with the high street retailers but the daily changing menus that we offer to clients make us and the way we operate very different. In regards to the Responsibility Deal we’ve been involved in some new pledges (such as one to reduce customer salt intake through specific items procured), however, I feel from my experience, a lot of the pledges have been generated by people who haven’t worked actively in the food industry, in particular contract catering. We try and support as many pledges as possible but some aren’t commercially possible as a business, especially with daily changing menus. For that reason, I would like to look at ways of raising the profile of contract catering in relation to the government and public health. I think it is important for others to understand what it is like to work in the contract catering industry and the challenges that lie within it.

“We are in constant competition with the high street but we have the added challenge of changing our menu daily, to satisfy our customer base which is generally the same. We are flexible in letting our sites choose what dishes they serve but we do understand the strict regulations that each site must follow, especially when it comes to calorie or allergen labelling, because of these it’s not always possible for us to provide as much nutritional information as people may expect. High street retailers with static menus and central production kitchens can take time to plan and roll out this detailed product information to all their locations.”
When asked about the future of her role and nutrition in the industry, Kate’s response is positive;

“I think health is going to be closer aligned to sustainability regarding sourcing and provenance. Education of nutrition needs to be looked at on all fronts. As a catering company we also have to react to what trends are prominent and imminent so I know my job will reflect that too. My prediction of one food trend that will continue to grow is that of the Asian market – its one that I promote too – simple ingredients, cooked quickly with flavours added through spices.”

Originally born in Australia, Kate left the country after secondary school to travel and gain work experience in different parts of the world. By the time she found her way to London she decided this was the city where she wanted to get her degree. “I had always had an interest in science but hadn’t really decided what area I would go into,” she reflects, “I liked the sound of the university courses and that was really all it took. I ended up liking the classes so much I made my degree a double one: Human Nutrition and Sports Science.”

While studying, she started working part-time in MITIE as a helpdesk operator. She noticed that within her course studies, there wasn’t much advice for nutritionists on what to do after they graduated. Having applied to the typical NHS routes and seeing there was a shortage of jobs, she decided to approach the catering arm of MITIE to see whether there may be a position for her there.

“I qualified as a nutritionist around the same time that Allister (Richards) had joined as MD of the catering team. It was good timing because he decided to give me an opportunity despite not having prior experience in foodservice. It took me around a year to settle into the catering business but once I realized the scope of what I could do, I couldn’t be happier with the opportunity.”

What makes nutrition special to Kate is the fact that she can help people. Working in the foodservice sector for a company like Gather & Gather gives her a special vantage point;
“I had the chance to develop the company’s food philosophy with our Food Director, Jim Norris. Our food philosophy encompasses how we deal with salt, sugar and fat as well as our cooking methods, sourcing and how we provide dietary information and informed choices. We have also started developing our own range of healthy food items under the Gather & Live range. I would say that in the past eighteen months I’ve seen a rise in interest on health from both prospective and current clients. More and more prospective clients have had health and nutrition as an area of focus when their contracts are up for tender. It reflects the current health trend on the high street and a general greater awareness of nutrition.”

For more information please contact Nicole Thompson on nicole.thompson@epmagazine.co.uk or call 020 7025 1862.

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