Infotech Faced with inflation, school canteens seek to contain rising prices

Faced with inflation, school canteens seek to contain rising prices

It worries mayors, parents of students and managers of school canteens, public or private: inflation will increase the price of meals in canteens at the start of the school year, putting a strain on household budgets and that of local authorities.

In the first quarter, the price of certain raw materials “increased extremely violently: milk took 16%, rice 13%, minced beef 22%, an average increase of 12% over one year”observes Bernard Gault, acting CEO of the Elior group, which supplies 1,300 school canteens.

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“It’s not just the war in Ukraine: the return of inflation in the cost of raw materials is a basic trend to which are added events such as drought and avian flu”, he told AFP. According to the OFCE, the purchasing power of French households will contract by 0.8% in 2022 due to inflation estimated at 4.9% over the year.

Less meat and smaller portions

To preserve its margins without compromising on quality, assures Bernard Gault, Elior renegotiates each contract with its customers, adapting its offer in order to reduce costs. Among the levers: “reduce the number of dishes, replace certain animal proteins, or reduce portions and consume less energy with slow, night cooking”says Damien Penin, general manager of the education market in France.

Not popular with families before the price spike, “anti-waste recipes” like carrot top puff pastries or French toast, come out of the drawers. And offering more vegetarian meals, like in Lyon or Paris (for 2023), is a “accelerating trend”he says.

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But in the end, collective catering companies, which manage 40% of school canteens as part of a public service delegation (60% being managed directly by the municipalities) will have to increase their prices.

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5% inflation “devours the margins entirely” of Elior, justifies Bernard Gault. “We cannot operate sustainably with losses, we have to pass the cost increases on to the local community: either it increases its taxes, or it asks the beneficiaries to accept a price increase. »

More “flexible” contracts

Similarly, competitor Compass, via its subsidiary Scolarest which serves 500 school canteens in France, is renegotiating its contracts in the face of a “10% increase in purchasing costs” and adapts menus and supplies, engaging with its suppliers “over the long term, by increasing volumes, by concentrating purchases on products that are less in demand” and stocking as much as possible, says Edouard Albertini, Purchasing Director.

To buy “whole beef carcasses and no longer just the front pieces”much in demand, “limits the impact of inflation a little and gives the farmer an economic balance”he says.

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And make more “flexible” contracts with local authorities subject to public procurement codes, in order to increase prices “more than once a year” to pass on the rise in the price of raw materials, becomes crucial.

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In Marseille, the impact of inflation will be borne mainly by Sodexo, which manages the city’s 320 school canteens, because “it is up to the delegate to bear the risks related to his activity”says Pierre Huguet, deputy mayor in charge of education. “Attentive to the situation” from its suppliers, the city could however accept, “on the basis of supporting documents”an increase in the price invoiced by Sodexo, if “the situation was becoming more critical”.

2022 budgets exceeded in September

In France, one in two cities will increase canteen prices in the face of the rise in “5 to 10%” of the price of meals demanded by its suppliers, recently warned Philippe Laurent, vice-president of the Association of Mayors of France.

“Some families will no longer put their children in the canteen”worries Nageate Belhacen, co-president of the FCPE parents’ federation, who wants an increase in the back-to-school allowance, or even the “free meals”.

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“State, local authorities and consumers” must do ” some efforts “ for “sustaining social cooking”are alarmed by the actors of collective catering in a collective text to be published on Wednesday June 15, considering that these budgetary difficulties are degrading “the quality of purchases: fewer organic, labeled products…”.

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Without action, warns Restau’co, which federates collective catering in direct management, the budgets of school canteens for 2022 “will have been consumed” mid-September.

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