The Zupa Forum – Technology is and will play an ever more important role in food service across education

EP was delighted to host, in partnership with Zupa, a forum which explored key trends across the education sector and the role which technology can and will play in the future. We were joined by three excellent speakers in

  • Richard Taylor, COO, Impact Food Group
  • Mark Greaves, Group Finance Director, the Stowe School Group
  • Jayne Jones, Senior Manager, Argyll & Bute and former Chair of Assist FM.

All three offered different but insightful perspectives on the market which is changing and evolving. We were also joined by over 20 guests from many of the leading food service players in the sector and key consultants which helped create a fascinating interactive discussion with the speakers.

Richard Taylor spoke of how the sector is rapidly evolving in using technology effectively, in collecting data and its understanding of key trends which naturally is helping to lower waste and costs. The view was that the effective use of technology today is central for all operators in how they improve operating procedures and service offers. However, the challenge is to find a system which operates effectively across all sites as often different sites will have different systems which can create its own problems and barriers. Richard also noted the fast speed of evolution and the need for greater understanding across the sector.

Many of these views were supported by Jayne Jones who spoke of the long journey it has taken Argyll & Bute to become effective in their use of tech across their sites; however, interestingly, they seemed to start their journey earlier than many and as a result, are today arguably ahead of many. Jayne spoke of their piloting in the use for drones to deliver to the islands during the pandemic and how this has evolved. She also spoke eloquently about the challenge in ensuring that chefs become comfortable and skilled in the use of tech and do not see it as a “threat” but more as an important tool to support them. Jayne’s point resonating with many as it is about a journey of educating operators and it does take time. Jayne also spoke of the pressures on the amount of money dedicated to school feeding, especially in the primary school area which is making conditions extremely difficult and pressurized for many operators.

Mark Greaves, in contrast, spoke of the potential threat to independent schools with Labour’s proposed addition of VAT to school fees which potentially could see over 130,000 pupils leave the private education sector an migrate to the state sector which is already under threat. At the same time, it will see many schools not be able to survive. He spoke of the day to day challenge for many to even recruit skilled staff and how costs were rising. He could see just how the sector will need to collaborate better and adapt with all the challenges being presented.

During the interactive discussion, it was also raised and noted how often IT leads were often older and maybe not always proactive in their solution finding and there was a need to ensure that younger talent was brought in to offer new solutions. The underlying point being that the industry is on a learning curve, is adapting and that there is a need to listen and hear fresh ideas and perspectives all the time.
This discussion led to two ideas being reflected upon which include:

  • Is there scope for a regular industry forum which does look a new tech advancement and innovation?
  • Is there scope for an industry forum to look at best practice and strong collaboration/knowledge share amongst all – including the schools themselves as well as operators and consultants?

We would be interested to hear your thoughts and views on these questions.

Ollie Brand, founder of Zupa, noted:

‘Our breakfast events in partnership with EP have generated some really interesting insights into the foodservice industry. This session has been no different and I was especially compelled by the discussion about how technology can help foodservice operators in schools highlighted the need to look beyond technology and focus on people. The importance of education and community – leading to a shared understanding of best practice and what is possible to address the challenges being faced and deliver operational efficiency. It also highlighted the importance of being purposeful in making changes, regardless of whether technology is or isn’t the tool that is going to facilitate the challenges, as the changes must stick and have a ROI.’