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Public sector leaders gather to discuss putting more British food on menus

28th Mar 2024 - 07:00
Public sector leaders gather to discuss putting British food on menus
Love British Food’s Public Sector Influencers event, which took place on 20th March at Stuart Roberts’ Hammonds End Farm in Hertfordshire, aimed to connect public sector decision makers with British food producers, farmers and suppliers.

Attendees included Phil Shelley, chair NHS Food Review and national lead for Net Zero Food at NHS England; Tim Radcliffe, net zero food programme manager at NHS England; chair of the Public Sector Catering Alliance Matthew White; TUCO; Sodexo; Brakes; Compass and OCS.

The group was given a tour of the farm, seeing everything that Stuart does to farm in a sustainable way, thereby learning the value of making British food the first supplier of choice.

Everyone then gathered on straw bales in the barn for a discussion, led by public sector leaders, on everything from how farmers and suppliers can engage in the tendering process to the contribution of different farming systems to the nutritional value of food. The consensus was an agreement that the public sector is a hugely overlooked market for British farmers. 

Alexia Robinson, Love British Food founder, commented: “There is a huge appetite across the entire public sector to ‘buy British’ - it’s all about inspiring and enabling both public sector caterers and farmers/suppliers to make British food first supplier of choice.

“Buyers, whether in the NHS, Local Authorities or universities, must be encouraged to consider where their food comes from and how the way the food is produced contributes to delivering on the many targets they are being set.

“Everyone on the day agreed that the best way of meeting these targets - net zero, sustainability, social value – is to prioritise buying British and ask their suppliers to provide as much British food as possible. There is also an acceptance that more needs to be done to encourage farmers to view this sector as a customer. We do not produce enough food in this country to meet the full public sector requirement so there is a clear business opportunity.

“We need a universal commitment from across the food service to put British farmers first. A big, but realistic aim, as looking at the enthusiasm of everyone who attended there is common agreement on this. Love British Food and our partners have already moved the public sector dial on this - we aim to push it even further. I wonder if the time is right to propose a Buy British category in all food service provider food listings; similar to the Buy British button that many are adopting.”

A report is being prepared that will be distributed, with a new Love British Food podcast launching in April where the discussion with leading food service providers, suppliers, buyers and producers will continue. The agreed objectives from the event were:

  • Inspire public sector providers to work with farmers and food producers to achieve robust supply chains of nutritious food.
  • Enhance understanding of exactly how farmers can supply the public sector.
  • Promote the public sector as a customer to encourage more farmers to invest in supplying it.
  • Explain to public sector caterers why buying from British farmers will help them meet their sustainability and net zero targets and deliver social value and the nutritious food they need.
Written by
Edward Waddell