Canny contractors

13/06/2017 - 07:27
Cost Sector Catering’s stateside reporter Amanda Balthazar runs her eye over some of the new ideas being trialled by operators in the US.

Catering contractors are a nifty bunch, experimenting with food, programmes, technology and help-the-world efforts that really make a difference. While many of these programmes are highly successful in the UK, they often have something different up their sleeves when you head across the Atlantic. Here, we take a look at the latest news from the big contractors stateside.


Aramark is teaming up with celebrities to put more heft behind its brands. The contractor has launched a new barbecue concept, EDQ, with Eric Dickerson, an American football celebrity. The new brand features his family’s barbecue sauce recipe.

“We are eager to share [Eric Dickerson’s, right] enthusiasm for great-tasting barbecue with a wider audience,” says Carl Mittleman, president of Aramark’s sports and entertainment division.

The sports star is just one of the celebrities to join forces with Aramark. Last year, the contractor teamed up with Cat Cora, a TV personality, author and restaurateur, to create a concept for Aramark’s B&I accounts: Olilo by Cat Cora.

The first Olilo opened at Goldman Sachs in New York City last June and the brand is now in more than 300 accounts. It features healthy build-your-own Mediterranean dishes from Cora’s Greek heritage, including bowls that feature a grain, super greens and a protein; plus flatbreads and homemade spreads.

Bon Appétit

Last August, Bon Appétit launched its Healthy Kids in the Bon Appétit Kitchen programme, with the goal of empowering children to make healthy food choices.

The programme, for primary-school-aged children, consists of lessons on where food comes from, why it’s vital to eat plants, the importance of eating a rainbow of colours in our diet, and how different foods bring different nutrients.

The second part of the two-hour programme is a cooking lesson. Children are taught how to handle a knife, for example, and how to make fruit kebabs and garden tacos, along with fresh salsa. This part of the class also includes eating what they make, along with taste testing some unusual fruits and vegetables like kumquats and rocket.

“It’s teaching them that cooking is a fun process,” says Nicole Cardwell, Bon Appétit’s manager of strategic initiatives. “The goal is to teach them how to make healthy choices, and to have positive feelings towards fruits and vegetables.”

Bon Appétit runs Healthy Kids across the country, in corporate accounts, colleges and speciality accounts such as Twitter, so children of graduate students or staff and faculty can attend. The events are free and each attract around 25 participants.

“The most valuable thing the kids can walk away with is a positive experience with cooking, healthy eating and feeling connected to fruits and vegetables,” Cardwell says.


Sodexo is leveraging its supply chain to help small farms. Given that the contractor spends more than $36.6 million annually on produce, it’s primed to make a difference.

The company works with small regional and state farms, supporting more than 1,400 local dairy farms that produce 37 million gallons of milk for clients and consumers.

“That equals the same amount consumed by nearly 1.12 million customers a day,” says Jim Pazzanese, vice-president of supply management, Sodexo.

Sodexo also uses fair-trade coffee and tea, and sustainable seafood. It has committed to sourcing and providing 100% cage-free shell and liquid eggs by the year 2020.

“Because we’re a global company with operations in more than 32,000 locations worldwide, our purchasing decisions can have a major impact,” Pazzanese explains.

Sodexo is focusing on four key areas: local sourcing (to support farmers and provide foods with the most flavour), fairly traded products (to support the environment and the economies of the communities where these are sourced), sustainable seafood and animal welfare.


Craft breweries are the focus of Centerplate, a contractor that caters to sporting facilities, transportation centres like airports and leisure locations such as zoos.

At the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, which opened in August 2015, craft beers are served at more than 14% of the draft handles. At other stadiums across the country, only 4% of the handles pour draft brews, on average.

“This has been a huge hit with our customers,” says Jerry Reed, the company’s director of food and beverage.

Craft beer is growing rapidly in the US. In 2015, the latest year for which there are numbers, the craft beer sales volume grew by 12.8%, according to the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado. The regular beer sales volume grew by 0.2% in the same year. But there’s another reason to serve these local brews, Reed says.

“We want to integrate as many things about Florida, especially south Florida, as we can,” he says. “It’s about craft beer but it’s also about contributing to our community. I love that we are supporting local jobs and local people.”

The downside to offering craft beers alongside the standard Budweisers and Miller Lites is that profit margins are lower, he admits. The craft beers cost $2 more than a domestic beer and $1 more than a speciality or imported beer.

“Even at that, it doesn’t offset our costs, but we didn’t want to charge more; we felt it was commensurate with what you would pay at any bar,” he says.

As well as pouring the craft beers at the stadium’s concession stands, Centerplate has two areas dedicated to craft beer and pours it in the private clubs.

“Alcohol and beer are usually pretty standardised,” Reed explains, “but we wanted to make sure that in our upscale clubs, they have some representation.”

Centerplate sources craft beer from eight local breweries and two in northern Florida. Sourcing can be tricky when dealing with craft breweries, because they’re smaller companies that usually haven’t worked with an entity such as a stadium before.

“This is all uncharted territory,” says Reed. “We find ourselves being educators as well as the client, but the good thing is we get to show them the ways that make sense for us, rather than another company dictating it.”

Centerplate plans to add more beers to its stadium line-up, but also doesn’t want to remove any beers.

“We want guests to know they can go to a certain place and get a specific beer,” Reed says.


Late last year, Chartwells launched Free the Kids, with a goal of improving the living conditions of more than 300 orphans and other children in Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the Americas.

In partnership with Missouri State University, where it is the catering contractor, Chartwells has a hydroponic garden that grows all campus herbs and some lettuce. This system uses very little water – ideal for a country like Haiti, which has a three-month dry season – and grows plants significantly faster than more-traditional methods.

Missouri State University and Chartwells are now bringing this technology to Haiti to help solve hunger problems, teach new techniques and skills, and put more healthy, vitamin-packed options into the diets of the children. Students from Missouri State and members of the Chartwells Missouri State management team will travel to Haiti this year to install a full-scale hydroponic centre, including 124 towers that can hold 8–10 plants each.

The team there will teach locals how to run and maintain the equipment. They will also hold a three-day clinic teaching Haitian residents about food safety and food preservation, including the topics of canning, pickling and sun drying. They will also work to certify good agricultural practices for the team in Haiti and any residents who want to learn safer farming practices.

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