Four takeaways from the Zupa Food Service Breakfast Forum

Ollie Brand
Contract catering

In our recent hospitality breakfast forum, we explored the key trends across the education food service sector and the role which technology can and will play in the future. Read our four takeaways.

In our recent food service breakfast forum, held in London, we explored the key trends across the education sector, particularly the role technology plays and will continue to play in the future. We were thrilled to be joined by guests from across some of the UK’s leading food service companies along with key consultants, which made for a fascinating interactive discussion. The forum also featured insights from our three expert panellists, Richard Taylor, COO of Impact Food Group (IFG), Mark Greaves, Group Director of Finance for Stowe Schools, and Jayne Jones, Former Chair of ASSIST FM Food and Drink, Scotland.

My blog this week summarises the four key takeaways from this interactive and informative event:

1. The main headwinds still prevail

The education and foodservice sectors are both facing their own challenges in today’s post-pandemic, post-Brexit world. Some of these challenges are sector-specific, whilst others are very much shared. Issues such as the shortage of skilled workers, difficulty in maintaining quality and consistency in the food served, and the constant need to train new staff are headwinds organisations have had to learn to navigate. Additionally, inflation and supply chain disruptions have led to rising food costs and shortages of key ingredients, making it difficult for foodservice operators to provide nutritious meals within tight budgets and the tight subsidies set by government. Regardless, expectations from parents continue to grow, increasing the pressure to provide healthy and nutritious meals for students.

Mark Greaves highlighted that the independent school sector also faces an additional existential threat to their future survival as Labour talks about imposing VAT on school fees as part of their election manifesto, which will send costs for parents soaring and risking many schools going under.

2. Technology’s ability to solve problems

In contract catering, technology is already helping schools and operators streamline operations, reduce costs, ensure food safety and sustainability, as well as enhance communication between schools, parents, and catering services. Jayne Jones’ experience from a local authority perspective (Argyll & Bute) demonstrates how early adoption of technology can allow organisations to learn from their experiences and implement changes more effectively, leading to a clear return on investment. The important learnings are to be purposeful in making changes, ensuring the changes stick and show a clear ROI.

Technology needs to be introduced at every opportunity to free up people’s time and/or change existing technology platforms. Successful technology adoption also requires careful integration to ensure smooth operations across different sites and systems. By fully integrating all aspects of their business, as Richard Taylor explained, operators can enhance revenue generation, reduce costs, make their business more scalable and bring innovation into the industry.

3. It’s all about the people

Whilst it's perhaps irrefutable that technology can help foodservice operators in schools, it is just as important to look beyond technology and focus on people. When implementing the technology, success depends on the quality and motivation of your teams. Jayne supported this with her example of ensuring that chefs were comfortable and skilled in the use of technology versus seeing it as a threat.

When it comes to skills, the sector also needs to ensure those responsible for innovation have the experience and vision to maximise outcomes. There was an observation that some heads of IT may not be fully realising the responsibility of their role and may, in fact, be behind the times themselves. To keep up with the fast pace of technological evolution, organisations need to recruit tech-savvy employees who can provide both vision and practical experience for on-the-ground implementation.

Mark Greaves brought attention to the recruiting challenge many face in today's tight labour market. This is a significant issue for the food service sector as it not currently highly regarded as a career choice in the UK and there is an urgency to make it more appealing. The discussion suggested that adopting technology and advancing the overall industry could help improve recruitment within the sector by enhancing its perception through better and more accurate storytelling. This is a crucial initiative for the sector's future success, and the next takeaway is key to moving this forward.

4. Shared best practice leads to greater outcomes

There is an evident appetite for best practice. Listening into the challenges and the sharing of ideas and problems across this forum, there is a real need for both education and community to help drive new technology advancement and innovation in foodservice for education. Increased collaboration could help all parties optimise operational efficiency and improve problem-solving.

In conclusion, technology can help reduce pressure on food service provision to schools by enhancing revenues, reducing costs, ensuring scalability, and future-proofing operations for both the industry and clients through innovation. However, even more importantly, by fostering collaboration, continuous learning, and adaptability, the industry will better navigate the changing landscape, resulting in improved customer service, increased efficiency, and more informed strategic decision-making. This, in turn, could help improve recruiting into this sector.

Ultimately, innovation will be encouraged through the sharing of ideas and the fostering of a supportive community. Moving forward, it is essential for all stakeholders to work together and leverage technology to create a brighter, more sustainable future for food service in education.

For more information on this event, or to express interest in our future food service forums, please email us at

The Zupa breakfast was organised in partnership with EP Hospitality.