Big Fresh Catering Company goes from strength to strength
The Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Big Fresh Catering Company has put in an impressive performance during its first year as a Local Authority Trading Company, with more than £500,000 invested back into schools.
An innovative business model allows the company, which provides food for schools and events, to operate as a commercial entity, returning all profits to schools and the business itself.
In keeping with this not-for-profit ethos, none of the company directors are salaried and the Council, as the only shareholder, has not drawn any money from the company.
So far £255,000 has been paid directly to schools, £60,000 has gone towards school and community projects, £88,000 used to buy better quality ingredients, £135,000 spent on maintaining equipment and £5,000 allocated to the sponsorship of pupil groups such as football teams.
The school and community projects to have received funding include a homework and enrichment club, which offers a space for pupils to complete their homework where they will be offered a healthy afternoon snack.
Another is the nutrition pod, a converted shipping container that allows children to concentrate on their health and wellbeing.
The healthy snack shack, run by year four, five and six pupils during breaktimes, offers the chance to create a menu, source and prepare the food while also learning about profit and loss and enterprise skills.
Breakfast and afterschool clubs are among the other schemes to gain funding, along with initiatives to create outdoor cooking and dining areas and the fabulous food project, where pupils prepare and cook healthy food based on the Eatwell Plate.
Since its establishment, the Big Fresh Catering Company has created allergen-free menus, increased vegan and vegetarian options, with more meals made from scratch and all meeting Welsh Government nutritional standards.
There are also plans to introduce a click and collect meal pre-ordering system in the near future.
During the pandemic, the Big Fresh Catering Company has helped launch a voucher initiative for free school meal provision, supplied meals for staff and pupils at school hubs and helped organise and deliver food to vulnerable pupils.
Aside from those efforts, the company has also established commercial operations, including a café and licensed bar at Penarth Pier Pavilion and an online business delivering grazing platters, afternoon teas and ploughman’s lunches.
There are also seasonal cakes boxes and treats available for events such as Halloween, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter.
The cafe sells a range of hot and cold drinks and own brand coffee blends, prepared by trained baristas, and a fresh menu featuring as many locally-sourced ingredients as possible.
Open from Thursday to Sunday evening, the bar serves a range of welsh spirits and cider.
Secondment opportunities have arisen for existing school meal staff to develop their skills and new jobs created at a time when many were struggling for employment.
The venture also has a no single-use plastic policy, supporting the Council’s Project Zero initiative, which aims to address the issue of climate change.
Cllr Lis Burnett, Vale of Glamorgan Council Cabinet member for Education and Regeneration, said: “This is a truly ground-breaking scheme, which we believe to be the first of its kind operated by a Local Authority. A challenging financial climate calls for innovation as we look to reshape the way in which services are delivered. This is a perfect example of how a creative approach can improve the outcomes we’re committed to and at the same time boost efficiency and significantly improve how we operate.
“Every customer that visits the Big Fresh Café or bar, orders a grazing platter online or buys school dinners is investing directly in schools, allowing them to offer pupils more in the form of better school meals and other benefits.”
Carole Tyley, Managing Director of the Big Fresh Catering Company, said: “I’m thrilled that schools are now starting to reap rewards from of the cutting-edge approach we have taken to operating the Big Fresh Catering Company. “Every partner school in the county has received their first share of the profits, while significant sums of money have also been spent in other areas that will benefit them. “I’m grateful for the commitment schools have shown in getting behind this new venture and I’m confident together we can achieve even more as the business grows.”