Gaining the Nutrition Advantage with your Contract Caterer

Angela Steel, CEO of SuperWellness interviews Aileen Smith, Corporate Nutritionist and SuperWellness Associate on how an effective business partnership between Employers and Contract Caterers can influence employee wellbeing at work.

SuperWellness provides nutrition centred wellbeing programmes for employees in a workplace setting, including seminars, workshops, touch and taste events, nutritional and catering consultancy, and our flagship Nutrition Challenge Programme.

Q1. Aileen, prior to training as a nutritionist, you were an owner/director of a contract catering business, what attracted you to the world of workplace wellbeing?

From a personal point of view I learned first-hand how running a successful business 24/7 can take a toll on your health and to “running on empty”. Whilst running my contract catering business I developed an interest in having a healthy food and lifestyle plan and discovered how it positively impacted on my health and performance.

I’ve always loved the business world and following the sale of my business in 2008, I started to think “what next”? It didn’t take me long to know that I wanted to focus on healthy living; helping people to find an easy and smart way to be healthy in business.

I knew about food and business but didn’t understand the science behind nutrition and that’s what led me to train as a nutritional therapist and then I followed on to integrate my nutritional education with my food and business expertise to work with both corporate and private clients.


Q2. How does your business experience enable you to help both employers and contract caterers enhance their well-being strategies?

I believe that being able to look at wellbeing objectives from the viewpoint of the Employer, Catering provider, the Onsite Catering Team and Customer is vital when delivering an integrated well being project.

It’s especially crucial to meet operational, financial and service based criteria for each stakeholder. Everyone has to be on board.

The most important outcome is that the customer (using the catering service) is able to buy food they enjoy, which supports their health and wellbeing, and ultimately that will lead to contributing towards the employers well being objectives being achieved.

Throughout my career as a caterer and a nutritionist I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with each of these stakeholder groups so I feel that puts me in a good position to look after everyone’s interests.

My goal is having a balanced approach to introducing nutritional initiatives, which are enjoyable for the customer, easy to implement for the onsite caterer and contribute to the bottom line for both the employer and caterer.


Q3. Employers are keen for their contract catering providers to support their wellbeing agenda with healthy options on the menu. How can the catering provider contribute to a healthy workforce?

Ensure you are sharing “the why and the how” of your good work on promoting healthy living with your client and especially with your customers.

This starts with the supply chain and a purchasing policy focusing on quality ingredients with good provenance. Don’t be afraid of offering premium products – many customers will pay more when they have assurances that you are purchasing quality ingredients.

Most contract caterers are focused on their customer requirements and will replicate the healthy high street trends to retain customers on site at break times. Showcasing new products and menus explaining how this will contribute to good health gives customers powerful reasons for choosing to buy from you.

Chefs and service staff are key influencers and frontline ambassadors – so having a catering team who are trained and educated in foundational nutrition and healthy food planning and preparation techniques is vital. For me the magic in the formula is having an catering team who are engaged and positively promote the well being message and gently encourage changes in eating habits in the workplace.


Q4. Every catering provider is operating within certain business constraints. What are the key considerations for employers to bear in mind when setting expectations of their catering provider?

I would say to consider the overall catering budget and the operational constraints of your catering facilities. Be aware that sometimes making changes to the food offer may impact on commercial targets (Income, GP, Sales Mix, Average Spends).

Your caterer will want to support your health and wellbeing objectives but may be nervous about how that may affect the bottom line and ultimately the cost of the catering service to your business. So be prepared for some open and honest dialogue and renegotiation of catering costs. For example educating your employees about reducing sugar perhaps by drinking fewer soft drinks may lead to lower income and profit.

A savvy caterer will do their best to mitigate impact on the cost of catering. Contract caterers are by nature very agile and responsive to changing circumstances. They are great at generating solutions and are focussed on customer and client retention so they will want to develop a service to keep you (the client) happy.

As with all change management, you need to be very clear about what your health and wellbeing objectives (what are your business reasons for making changes?) and what outcomes does your business desire.

I suggest that in partnership with your caterer, you undertake “light” research (e.g. customer survey/focus groups), implement trials and pilots to measure customer satisfaction and effects on finances before a full roll out of major changes to menus, suppliers, equipment, and marketing activities.

However, I’m a great believer in “meeting people where they are” and there are many simple changes, which will positively contribute to a healthier workforce (with minimal or no cost to customer, employer or caterer). The important thing is to get talking and then make some simple changes.


Q5. What advice would you give to employers looking to work in partnership with their caterer to improve employee wellbeing? How can it be made effective and mutually rewarding?

Employers who provide a catering, vending and hospitality service in their workplace usually do this for a number reasons i.e. it’s an employee benefit, provides a community space for break times and informal engagement, keeps employees on site during breaks, a well-fed workforce is happy and performs well. It’s vital to consider the catering service as a integral part of workplace wellbeing too.

I often find that employers don’t fully appreciate the wide-ranging benefits of nutrition-centred wellbeing. Often the approach is a tick box exercise e.g. have some healthy options highlighted on the menu, have health based leaflets and posters in the staff restaurant and once or twice a year have a caterer led health themed event on the marketing calendar. This is a good start but may not lead to achieving your wellbeing goals.

I encourage both clients and caterers to find “the nutrition gap” in their current offering and fully tap into the “the nutrition advantage” as part of their workplace wellbeing plans.

Examples of meeting the nutrition gap include:

  • Education of frontline catering teams – often customers know the chef and service staff well and will look to them for advice and suggestions on best food choices at the service point. When the on-site chef understands and fully endorses your wellbeing plan it will translate into creative menus and products being readily available.
  • When clients invite the on-site catering team to join in on SuperWellness Nutrition Challenges, they almost become our “poster team for wellbeing” – everyone in the organisation notices the visible changes in individuals and it naturally initiates conversations about health and well-being.
  • It’s vital to undertake a nutrition review of menus, meeting room hospitality, vending, healthy cooking methods, availability of healthy food services for shift workers (on and off site), how and when employees take breaks and also purchasing and suppliers.
  • Timing of catering promotions and menus to reflect advice/educationbeing delivered via the client’s wellbeing programme will help to add value and provide an integrated approach.

Ultimately the goal is for employees to make food and lifestyle choices and actions to enhance their both their personal and work lives, leading to meeting the employers well being goals.

When it comes to funding new initiatives within the catering service I’d say to any employer “ think out of the box”, these changes are bigger than the catering subsidy. The long-term benefits of a healthy, high performing workforce will be seen on the company balance sheet.

Here are a few of the nutrition advantages the employee and employer can expect:

  • Improved energy levels
  • Enhanced productivity and performance
  • Increased ability to deal with stress
  • Improved concentration
  • Even mind/mood
  • Better quality of rest and sleep
  • Prevention of chronic health conditions (helps to reduce short and long-term absences)


  1. Ensure you consider the needs all stakeholders – customer, employer, onsite catering team and catering provider.
  2. Have a food offer, which is enjoyable for the customer, easy to implement for the onsite caterer and contributes to the bottom line for both the employer and caterer.
  3. Have a golden thread of great nutrition from suppliers to ingredients to cooking styles to menu offer to information based marketing materials and a catering team who engaged, educated and happily will promote the healthy food offer to their customers.
  4.  Consider the overall catering budget. Find ways of funding changes to menus and services. The long-term benefits of a healthy, high performing workforce will be seen on the company balance sheet.
  5. Don’t let money be a limiting factor – there are lots of simple changes, which can be introduced and will have a positive healthy impact on your workforce.
  6. Find “the nutrition gap” in your current catering service and the design your food offer to give you “the nutrition advantage” in your business.
  7. Chefs and service staff are key influencers and frontline ambassadors – educate and encourage them to actively promote making healthy food choices in the workplace.

If you are a Contract Catering Provider or Employer and would like help with nutritional catering consultancy, training and workplace wellbeing programmes please contact ph 07879 628487.

Keep in touch:

We’ve just launched the Nutrition-centred Wellbeing network for those involved in wellbeing initiatives to share insights and experiences around nutrition in the workplace. Join here and receive our complimentary NCW toolkit containing:

  • A monthly seasonal health campaign poster for your workplace
  • The nutrition centred wellbeing calendar and 40 page report
  • Unbeatable offers for you to trial the NCW packages with your employees

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