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Healthier catering with Cater Plus

Cater Plus founder and CEO Paul Hodge says companies, cafeterias and catering companies have nothing to lose and everything to gain by offering healthier food.

“I personally believe in eating healthily. And since I believe in looking after the wellbeing of my own people, it makes sense to make sure the people we serve are eating healthily too. We have always offered healthy food, but we knew we could do even better with some set criteria to guide us. So, we aligned what we did with the Heart Foundation’s guidelines.”

The Heart Foundation developed its Guidelines for Providing Healthier Cafeteria based on its ‘Criteria for Healthier Recipes’. Along with the guidelines, which offer businesses a checklist to assess their menus, the Heart Foundation’s programme also sets up regular audits and produces posters to advertise the healthier menus, allowing for co-branding.

Implementing the guidelines

In the middle of 2014, Cater Plus implemented the guidelines in 22 workplace sites, reaching over 4,000 consumers and 100 Cater Plus staff. Because of its success, the programme continues in these workplace cafeterias and an extension of the programme is being considered.

Nearly half (47%) of the company’s consumers eat at least five meals a week in the cafeteria, while nearly two-thirds (64%) eat at least three. Paul says it’s therefore important to take a menu-wide look at what to offer, rather than just offering healthy options.

“Offering a wholly healthy menu is the ultimate but you have to take it in steps or you’re going to lose people straight away. We’ve never tried to change anything overnight – it’s always a gradual implementation. And customers are generally accepting of the changes, so long as they understand what you are doing and why you are doing it.”

Making a difference

Paul says the main ways they make a healthy difference are through the ingredients they use, their cooking methods and portion sizes. “We hardly use white bread anymore, and in most of our kitchens we don’t have a deep-fryer. We still offer chips but they’re baked in a combi-oven, not fried. You can’t tell the difference.”

Cater Plus is always looking for new ways of guiding customers towards healthier choices. “We’ve reduced the size of our muffins and scones, and we offer half-portions on our cakes and slices," Paul says.

"As long as we explain why we are doing what we do, it’s generally accepted. We can still give them what they want – pies, chips and cakes – but we give them in a way that’s healthier. You have to judge your approach based on your customers.”

Education is the key

Paul says his own staff provide a bigger challenge. “Chefs who have been cooking everything in butter for years or kitchen staff who only know white bread with lots of butter, we need to teach them a new way of doing things.

"Again, it’s about education. Our operations manager will go in and physically show them what’s required and why. Every site is a little different and one way isn’t going to work for all. Encouraging our people and our customers to eat better is important to us, so we always find a way for the staff to understand.”

Cater Plus has found the guidelines very easy to follow and implement. Paul says the guidelines and its quarterly audits mean it’s easier for healthy eating intentions to stick.

“A lot of businesses have healthy eating policies but they often fail because they aren’t backed up by supporting guidance or initiatives. The guidelines give us a foundation, an organised and recognised way to work. It’s more successful than trying to do something stand-alone. And a large part of that success is having a strong partnership with your client.”

Paul says offering healthy food is no more expensive than opting for less healthy food, and in fact it can be good for business. He says it can be a point of difference if clients know about their focus on health. He’s recently had an approach specifically because the potential client heard they offered a healthy menu.

“I’d absolutely recommend focusing on healthy foods and using the guidelines to help you do that. You don’t have to do everything, but doing something is always better than doing nothing.”

For more information, email Paul Hodge at Cater Plus, or email Judith Morley-John from the Heart Foundation. Also see the Heart Foundation's Hospitality Hub.

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