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The essential social role of collective catering

Cantine scolaire
In June 2019, Jacques Toubon, the Ombudman of the French Ombudman-Institution “Le Défenseur des droits”, published a report entitled: A right to school canteens for all children. This report underscores the importance of providing healthy, balanced and affordable meals to all children in France.

An ambition shared by Elior, a leading collective catering player in France, and caterer for infants and young children in nurseries and schools, as well as for adults in business and seniors in retirement homes.

The Defender of Rights report

The Defender of Rights published this report in June 2019 after ascertaining that access to school catering, sometimes difficult for children from low-income families who are penalized by high prices, is often further impeded by discrimination.

The report findings:

  • An increase in the number of children in primary school canteens: 7 out of 10 children eat school lunches
  • Importance of canteen meals for the most under-privileged: school lunch may be the only complete and balanced meal of the day.
  • Access to this public service is further restricted by growing poverty in the region.
  • Access inequalities are being exacerbated by the regional divide: weight of municipalities which are free to set up this service in middle and high schools.
  • Tarrif disparities depending on the communes.
  • Offer disparities depending on the communes (bio, short food circuits, etc.)
  • Access inequalities to this service due to discrimination (disability, social milieu, etc.)

The report advocated the following recommendations :

  • Adapt and proportionately adjust the canteen service to the number of children attending school.
  • Put an end to discrimination with regard to canteen access.
  • Make pricing a tool to ensure the right to the canteen for all.
  • Consider adapting menus to all prescriptions (medical, religious).
  • Reflect upon the evolution of the status of the public school catering service.

These findings and recommendations were reiterated in the new annual report published in June 2020. The new annual report published in June 2020 . Defending and promoting the best interests and the rights of children requires access to education and  school canteen meals.

The mission of contract catering

The ongoing economic and social context triggered by the onset of the Covid-19 crisis has further underscored these disparities. Throughout the sanitary crisis, a lot of children in many neighborhoods impacted by lockdown and school closures have been deprived of their one substantial meal of the day.

This is why the social mission of contract catering must be reinforced. The contact catering sector plays a fundamental role by offering as many people as possible, both at school and in business, healthy, balanced and affordable meals. Children consume nearly 140 meals per year in the school canteen, which has become an essential place in terms of of education: education in tastes, discovery of new products, learning about balanced diets, and raising awareness to the challenges of sustainable development (fight against waste food, origin of products, etc.).

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food stresses the social role of contract catering, which provides meals at prices that are lower than the real cost of production. Guests pay a portion of the cost (generally roughly five euros) and the communities or employers the rest. In addition, in France, regulatory texts ensure the nutritional balance of meals over a day, over a week, and even over the month, particularly in school catering (Hygiene package, PNNS 4, PNA 3, GEMRCN).

In other countries, the role of social caterer played by Elior teams has also been emphasized and reinforced during the sanitary crisis in recent months:

  • In the United States, Elior North America mobilized its teams during the crisis so as to continue to provide this essential social catering service for the most vulnerable populations (the elderly, children from disadvantaged backgrounds).
  • In Spain, Serunion provided catering for 18,000 Andalusian scholarship students throughout the lockdown, and thus contributed to the fight against food insecurity.

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