Socially responsible school catering with Impact Food Group

Catering 7 min read

One company’s progressive approach to education catering during a cost of living crisis

Impact Food Group is a national education caterer working across 500+ schools. 

They’ve got a bold mission to change the food habits of a generation with healthier, more nutritious and sustainable food in schools. 

For the first blog in our Food Waste Action Week series, we sat down with Managing Director Bryan Lygate to discuss what socially responsible school catering looks like, why there’s more to preventing food waste than just not throwing food away, and how they’re keeping their school food offering (even during a cost of living crisis).

What makes Impact Food Group different from other education caterers?

Bryan: “At Impact Food Group, we’re all about feeding more students better food. Our ethos is to ask ourselves – what if we transformed school canteens into restaurants? What if school food could be truly restaurant quality – with proper food, made by chefs on site? We find that when we ask the question “what if…” – in any area of what we do, something tends to get better. “

Innovative food with a focus on education and engagement 

Could you tell us a bit about how you’re approaching sustainability at Impact Food Group?

Bryan: “We’re really proud of how sustainability is embedded across the board at our schools.

We’ve looked at everything from how to reduce our packaging, to food miles, our suppliers, and where we source our food from. We’ve made lots of progress with plant-based menus, which has been a big help in reducing carbon emissions. And then of course we’re sharing any spare food with members of the local community via Olio, which is helping us keep our waste levels to a minimum.

I know reducing packaging doesn’t sound revolutionary, but at schools, something like introducing reusable pots and bowls isn’t as simple as it sounds. We’ve also been working out how that doesn’t then lead to an increase in water usage from washing up. It can be complicated but we’re making great progress.” 

How are you engaging the wider school community with the work you’re doing?

Bryan: “We do lots of marketing and communications around our sustainability work, with an educational angle that benefits our students and their parents. That marketing also focuses on food options and their nutritional value – helping students and parents make more informed choices.

“We also share our Olio impact reports so that the wider community can see the positive effect our food donations are having. We’ve let parents know about Olio’s app too, and the fact that they can actually collect any spare school meals  at the end of each day – and we’ve had some great feedback on that.”

I think that ripple effect of us being able to support students and their parents helps us provide maximum value for the schools we work with, too.”

And how are you keeping your staff engaged around all this, too?  

Bryan: “We have regular brand standards events which bring teams together with managers to talk about  ingredients, brainstorm ways to reduce energy use and food waste in kitchens, and come up with ideas for future menus. We’ll work on product engineering around whole ingredients and making sure we’re not wasting anything which has nutritional benefits – like potato peelings for example. 

Brainstorming together like this really works for us. We’ve found that if those ideas come from the teams themselves, they’re more likely to hold.”

Delivering sustainable school catering during a cost of living crisis

Could you tell us a bit about the social impact you help schools deliver through IFG’s service?

Bryan: “Social impact is also at the heart of what we do, and that’s become even more important over the last couple of years, especially during this cost of living crisis. 

We do things like free porridge at breakfast, and we’ve been working hard to tweak our food offering so that there’s affordable options for everyone – because it’s not just kids on free school meals that could be struggling. There are plenty of others that don’t fall into that category, that still need affordable options. 

We’ve worked together as a team to come up with some great ideas. One chef had the brilliant idea to create these snacks called Powerbites, which are packed full of nutrients but cost just  £1.30 – which are the perfect budget option. These are now being rolled out across our sites.” 

Running food waste free school kitchens with Olio

Could you tell us why Olio works so well for IFG?

Bryan: “For me, it was a question of stopping food waste, but doing that in the right way, and making sure it gets to the people that need it the most. That’s where Olio came along. 

We love the reporting tools that Olio offers – there are no grey areas now, and we can see a clear snapshot of the impact we’re having on local communities across our schools. It’s scalable too, so when we bring on new schools, we can get them started with Olio right away, and they can start contributing to that wider impact. 

And we can be super clear about that impact to our customers too.”

Was Olio the only redistribution solution that ticked the necessary food safety boxes?

Bryan: “Yes, I’d say so. Now that I think about it, it’s the only viable option I’ve seen from a food safety perspective for an organisation like ours.

We were really passionate about first reducing food waste, and then being able to share anything leftover in a meaningful way. But the traceability that Olio offers is so important, because we can see where the food ends up.”

Is there anything that has exceeded your expectations since you started working with Olio?

Bryan: “For us, the engagement has been second to none from your team.

Olio has become a real partner of Impact Food Group, getting more sites contributing and donating and helping us have the maximum impact. A couple of Olio team members – Sophie and Louis – even came along to our operations meetings to talk us through everything from how we should be donating cooked food, to getting our kitchen staff engaged, and keeping Olio volunteers happy. 

Louis also delivered a great presentation that gave us a snapshot of our impact, and brought the whole process to life with images of volunteers with our staff, and pictures of the food that’s being rescued from our kitchens.

All of that engagement makes this feel like a true partnership, and that it’s working. It’s been a bit of a cultural shift for us – that engagement and input from Olio has helped our teams to get bought in, and see how we can really make a difference. 

It’s not just a question of “not putting things in the bin” – we’re part of a journey to help communities .”

At Olio, we’ve been working with the team at Impact Food Group since the start of 2023, supporting them in delivering a positive social impact for the school communities they serve.

Are you an education caterer looking for ways to support local communities and stop food waste? Get in touch today.