Food Service Promotion conducted a survey of food service managers in June of this year to determine the pulse of healthcare dietary managers and food service professionals at the close of the school year. We had about 100 industry insiders participate in our survey. We appreciate their time and energy. Many of them spent a lot of time sharing their thoughts.

identify their biggest challenge in food service.

The results of our multiple choice question were:

  • food cost considerations 36%
  • compliance with nutritional guidelines 32%
  • student participation and satisfaction 18%
  • labor issues 8%
  • other 4%

However, the comments associated with these replies revealed how interrelated these issues really are.  “I am concerned about the nutritional standards being so strict that our students will not participate because they are not ready for the change and the cost of the new standards. Without compliance we will have no program.” Another participant wrote “My biggest challenge is actually trying to balance 2 of the above – compliance with nutritional guidelines while keeping up student participation and satisfaction.” Another respondent who chose compliance with nutritional guidelines also said “Customer satisfaction and food cost are also big challenges and I had a hard time choosing between the three.” And 3 of the 4 people who selected “other” as a response listed “all of the above” as significant concerns.

Clearly, food service professionals within the school system are facing significant challenges and many of you appear to see them as a grouping of interrelated issues. Based on a composite of the food service manager comments, the dilemma goes something like this. New regulations are requiring new items and combinations that are generally more costly and are often less acceptable to students, driving down participation rates. More preparation is sometimes required driving up labor costs and requiring training. This is happening in an environment of intense budget scrutiny while a continuously changing regulatory environment makes it very difficult to plan effectively. Does this sound familiar?

This brings us to our second question, what can suppliers or manufacturers do to assist you at this time? Not surprisingly, the most common item sited in this open ended question was providing items that meet the nutritional guidelines for your district. The specific requirements which seemed to produce the most concern were whole grains and sodium levels although the protein requirement for breakfast was also mentioned a few times.

The second most common request was for products that were cost effective or fit within the budget levels established for your applications. “Keep costs as low as possible.” And the third most commonly mentioned item was for products that were acceptable to the students. Taste, packaging and being trendy were all mentioned repeatedly as important in this regard.“We need products that kids love and that are keeping up with the retail trends.”

One respondent summarized the top 3 requests well “make great tasting, nutritional items that stay within our food cost parameters.” Another response was “We are continually looking for foods that not only meet the nutritional guidelines, but are affordable, and popular with the students.”

Other items of assistance that were mentioned by several participants included:

  • Better and timely communication, especially when product changes are involved
  • Products that are easy to prepare to save on labor costs
  • Nutritional information that is specific to the nutritional guidelines that must be followed
  • Clear and complete labeling
  • Incentives and promotions to help introduce new items
  • No mid-year cost increases
  • Educational opportunities

Next month we will provide more information on this informative survey. Good luck with the beginning of a new school year. Based on what we’re hearing, we know you will have plenty to keep you busy.