How Olive Dining has cracked zero waste school catering

Catering 6 min read

This week, we caught up with Kelly Spratt, the Sales and Marketing Director at Olive Dining, one of Olio’s key partners in the Education Catering Sector. 

During our chat, Kelly explained how sustainability has become such a core part of the service Olive Dining provides to its schools, and why – alongside their other food waste reduction initiatives – it felt so important to share surplus food through Olio. 

How it all started

Founded by Stephanie Spratt and Chris Witter about 12 years ago, Olive Dining is an Education Catering company working with both primary and secondary schools. 

It all began at an Adult Education Centre in Seven Oaks, where Stephanie and Chris served meals out of a tiny little domestic kitchen to around 30 adults. Since then, Olive Dining has grown to 125 sites across primary, secondary and all-through schools – with a strong focus on nutrition, sustainability, and community as part of their service offering.

How it’s going

12 years later, Olive Dining now has a reputation among schools for providing a nutritious student dining experience throughout a child’s educational journey. Kelly told us:

“Because of high levels of deprivation in the communities where we operate, for many kids, their school lunch may be the one hot meal they get that day. Because of this, our catering teams will try to serve meals on china plates wherever possible, with knives and forks, rather than serving hand-held pizza paninis, or relying on a Grab&Go offering that other caterers might provide.” 

“For example, we recently completed a pilot with a Tower Hamlets secondary school, where the percentage of students getting free school meals is 100%. That’s an incredibly high level of deprivation, which makes our work feel even more important”.

Why Olive Dining chose to partner with Olio

Olive Dining is on a journey to becoming carbon neutral as a company, and cutting out food waste is a big part of that. 

Kelly explained: “We do have kitchen processes and other community partners that we can lean on to reduce wastage, but Olio plays a really important role in helping us totally eliminate food waste”.

“A big thing for us was finding a way to share hot meals in a way that complied with our back-of-house due diligence requirements, which until we found Olio, we struggled to do. There weren’t really any available routes for us to share cooked food. What’s great about Olio is that you guys take responsibility for the food once it’s been collected, and volunteers are thoroughly trained to keep it safe”.

“We do try to re-use as much food as possible during the week. But if we’ve got lots of leftover cooked food on a Friday, Olio is fantastic as we can’t rely on other charitable routes over the weekend.” 

As schools have such a strong community focus, it’s natural that Olive Dining can cater to that, too. Kelly explained how schools have reacted to their partnership with Olio:

“A partnership like the one we have with Olio is so key for us – it means that our schools can see that we’re also very invested in the local community (as they are). It’s especially important right now given how tight the purse strings are for everyone, and with the cost of living going up.”

Running sustainable school kitchens

Olive Dining’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond working with Olio. These are just a few of the areas where the team is working to be kinder to the environment:

Eliminating single-use plastics: 

  • In primary schools, all meals are served on reusable china plates on the counter. 
  • Desserts are served in reusable pots (rather than disposable ones).
  • Kitchens use reusable containers for storing food (rather than relying on single use cling film).
  • Suppliers are asked to avoid plastic, so there’s less wrapping coming onto site.
  • All secondary school students get a reusable water bottle to fill up with water from Olive Dining water stations.

Cutting out food waste & educating kitchen staff:

  • Kitchen teams continually monitor what’s most and least popular with students, tweaking menus to account for those choices and reduce waste.
  • Olive Dining’s online training portal teaches staff the basics of running a sustainable kitchen (like not leaving the tap running, or turning on ovens you won’t use).
  • All used cooking oil is repurposed to biodiesel.

Engaging school communities:

  • They’ve set up eco-councils across their schools, helping to educate kids of all ages about the importance of caring for the environment
  • They’ve organised cooking lessons for parents and students, teaching them how to make a fresh pasta sauce (rather than opening a pre-made jar full of sugars).
  • They’ve set up bake sales to fundraise for local charities.

When we asked Kelly what advice she had for other contract caterers looking to operate more sustainably, here’s what she had to say: 

“You’re only going to be able to do things one thing at a time. It’s about looking at what initiatives are achievable, especially in the contract catering world, and especially in schools where you’re serving such a large volume of students.

You need goals, and you need a timeline to achieve them – and make sure you’re hitting those goals before moving onto the next”.

To finish, we asked Kelly for a few final comments about Olive Dining’s partnership with Olio…

“Before this call, I rang a couple of our Operations Managers to check in with them about how it’s going with Olio. I’m happy to say that the feedback has been amazingly positive.”

“Our catering teams are so happy not to be throwing food away – especially on a Friday. No-one wants to put food in the bin!”.
Want to learn more about the work we do with school caterers and their catering teams? Get in touch with us via our website to speak to a member of our team today.