6 more practical ideas to help cope with food inflation
The traditional tools and methods employed by foodservice operators and catering teams to tackle rising costs are no longer enough to counter this increasingly relentless upward trend.
Even when managing a flexible budget, control of food spend will not necessarily off set the additional costs across the entire operation, such a labour and utilities. This combination poses a real financial headache that can still result in higher operational costs – even if core food costs are controlled.
Having an accurate costing model that provides a comprehensive understanding of all the contributing costs across the catering operation is vital. Full visibility of the fixed and especially variable (controllable) costs is essential – and the commercial, profit driven catering model – focusing on ‘percentage margins’ is a mindset that an increasing number of consumption based, in-house institutional caterers are turning to.
Keeping track of this data, and nimbly controlling variable costs whilst also battling increasing food prices can protect your foodservice operation from excessive spending on ingredients, labour, and energy costs. Having the flexibility to adapt menus quickly, utilising a range of alternative ingredients will help alleviate the rising prices and ensure the production of cost viable dishes whilst still producing high quality and nutritional menus.
Here are some practical ways to best cope with food inflation:
1) Flex your recipes
Reviewing and regularly recalculating your menu enables you to determine the biggest cost component of your recipes, typically the protein content.
One way to manage this cost is to reduce the use of premium cuts of meat and substitute them with less expensive cuts of meat such as lamb neck and chicken thighs.
It’s a good idea to review every ingredient in your recipe, to establish the total cost and yield of each dish. For example, is it cheaper to use smaller quantities of extra mature cheddar cheese rather than mature cheddar in your sauces? Will there be more wastage if you use wonky or frozen vegetables rather than class 1 vegetables for stews and casseroles? Will the yield of your fish pie be affected if you reduce the salmon content for more haddock or swap to frozen fish, or use less cream and more milk? Should you substitute rice with potatoes?
Being able to purchase strategically by calculating every penny of your recipe’s components, enables you to make quicker decisions and reap the financial benefits.
2) Increase in-house production
Purchasing ready prepared chopped fruit and vegetables, stocks and readymade sauces clearly costs more. Savings will be made by increasing the level of in-house preparation.
However, a cost benefit analysis is still recommended – as it is important to factor in additional costs of this, such as: energy, labour, equipment depreciation. Batch cooking is a good way of saving time and increasing production output for the same labour input.
Some operations have the capacity to strategically plan and invest in CPU facilities – such as bakery, butchery processing and deli production.
3) Follow the seasons
The globalisation of food production has increased food availability all year round, however seasonal foods are best eaten when they are naturally in harvest or ripening, such as UK butternut squash and blackberries in October.
Seasonal ingredients taste better and can be more sustainable and less expensive.
4) Brand versus own label
The higher cost of branded label products is often influenced by the manufacturers’ marketing costs, not necessarily the quality, flavour, or yield.
It is worth sampling own label products, especially if they are only being used back of house, decanted or as secondary ingredient to other dishes.
One significant example is rice, around 50% saving can be made by changing to own brand.
5) Drained weight of tinned goods
Tinned goods often state the net weight, which is the combined weight of the solid and the liquid contents. Measuring the drained weight of tinned items such as fruits, corn, chickpeas, and tuna will help establish their true cost and yield.
If consuming both the food and the liquid, such as tinned tomatoes, then this won’t likely be an issue, but tinned tuna that is packed in brine or water results in the liquid being drained and discarded. For example, a 1880g tin of tuna when drained might hold 1320g of useable tuna, compared to a 1.7kg can (distributed by other wholesalers) having a drained useable weight of 1260g.
Tinned fruits can often be a convenient and sustainable option as they last much longer, there is less waste and by removing the need to wash and prepare the fruit, savings can be made on labour costs.
Utilising a catering control platform to store recipes and calculate ingredient data to track and manage every penny of spend will enable caterers to forecast accurately and have tighter control over profit margins.
This technology supports nimble and flexible menu changes as pricing is uploaded live from suppliers. Also, ingredients can be substituted across all dishes very simply.
Software that can build and cost recipes quickly – whilst simultaneously analysing nutritional and allergen data, streamlining stock control and reducing administration – can save catering operations valuable time and resources.
For more consultative advice or guidance, contact us or find out more about how we can help, here. Our approach is hands-on and practical, delivered by our team of experienced caterers and food procurement experts.