Feeding the Public Sector: Procurement and Nutrition

It’s impossible to underestimate the effects of healthy school meals on students. According to The Atlantic, students who eat regular, healthy meals are less likely to be tired, are more attentive in class, and retain more information.

In fact, a study by the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrated that students at schools that contract with a healthy school lunch vendor score significantly higher on state-wide achievement tests.

And it’s not only schools that are recognising the importance of healthy, nutritious eating. Many other public sector organisations are too – from prisons and hospitals, to nursing homes and universities.

It’s no wonder food service providers are keen to meet the demand. This is big business and governments around the world have made it clear that they want an emphasis on health and nutrition. To give an idea of the scale of the potential, public procurement accounts for 13 – 19% of GDP in the UK, while in the USA that rises to 18 – 24%. The EU spends over 14% of GDP on it, as do Australia and New Zealand. 

And it’s food service providers which are committed to making their products as healthy as possible that are best placed to make the most of these enormous opportunities on their public sector accounts.

What makes a healthy meal healthy?

Is it always easy to spot healthier products? Not necessarily.

It’s not as simple as swapping white bread for brown. Healthier looking foods aren’t always what they seem. Many can contain hidden dangers like high levels of sodium, sugar or saturated fats. The problem for manufacturers has been that when these are reduced, or when artificial substitutes have been used to replace them, the meal simply doesn’t taste as good. And there’s no point creating a healthy meal if no one actually wants to eat it! 

But the demand for genuinely healthy “clean label” food in the public sector is growing, led by no less an authority than the WHO. In January 2021, they urged all governments to promote healthy food in all public facilities, arguing that this can play a key role in making sure people are provided with the nutrition they need, and help prevent the eight million deaths caused every year by poor nutrition. They estimate that 2.5 million deaths could be prevented each year simply by reducing salt consumption to the recommended levels.

WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urges governments to lead by example and insist that no public funds should be spent on food contributing to unhealthy diets.

Governments around the world are taking note and are placing increasing importance on cutting down on salt, sugar and saturated fats. And this is something which is being prioritised by public sector organisations when procuring food. 

This presents a huge opportunity for manufacturers to meet the challenge by offering products within these guidelines to their public sector accounts.

Taking a big step towards making nutritious meals healthier

One of the biggest areas of concern with public sector procurement standards worldwide is salt consumption. Governments are now recognising the long-term dangers of excess sodium and are facing it head on. 

In Europe and worldwide, schools already have policies in place on reducing salt. In Norway, any food with over 1.5 grams of salt per 100 grams of food is no longer allowed in school meals. In Latvia, anything over 1.4 grams is banned while in Switzerland, added salt cannot exceed 0.4 grams per 100 grams of product. 

In the US, the Biden administration are expected to make higher nutritional standards in the National School Lunch Program a priority. This includes putting sodium reduction back in the spotlight, especially when it comes to school meals, where authorised salt levels had exceeded those recommended by the federal dietary guidelines.

So how can manufacturers adapt to these standards while still meeting the delicate balance between delicious and nutritious which food service providers demand? One way is by formulating foods with Saltwell, a unique all-natural salt substitute which gives all of the taste of salt but with 35% less sodium.

Simply using Saltwell in place of regular salt provides a clear benefit: end users won’t notice any difference, but the people responsible for procurement will. Because budgets aren’t the only numbers they’re wrestling with – nutritional data is now part of their mission.

If you’re interested in giving your product a significant advantage with the public sector, get in touch to learn more about Saltwell or request a free sample.