As students are continuing to learn from home, some colleges have reduced their offering to a simple, basic pre-packed sandwich for lunch to satisfy the appetite of vulnerable learners and the handful of staff on the campus which means that suppliers like Pasta King have been left out in the cold while lockdowns remain in place.
FE News spoke with Mark Stone, CEO of Pasta King, about the current crisis around the provision of food boxes, school dinners and the impact that these are having on his business. Mark said:
“We have the benefit of being able to approach our business with agility and have adapted to the ever-changing landscape by producing individual sized pasta sauce pouches. These can be added to pasta, rice or used for pizza toppings at home.”
The pouches are produced fresh or frozen and come in two of Pasta King’s best selling vegetarian flavours, basilico and pomodoro.
He added: “We have had great interest in our new pouches as school principals want their pupils to enjoy a healthy and nutritious balanced meal and the majority of parents trust the involvement of the principals and teachers in what is being sent home. The pricing fits within catering manager’s budgets and they work in boxes and for those who are receiving free school meals.
“I believe that although things are uncertain at the moment we will come back stronger once lockdown ends as there is a real eagerness to learn on campus and students are keen to get back to college. I believe that eating habits will change in schools too with an uptake in free school meals, thanks to the profile raising by people like Marcus Rashford and with research showing that children should have increased time for lunchbreaks so as to allow time to eat a nutritional lunch to assist their behaviour in class during the afternoon.”
Howard Porteous, Regional Sales Manager for Pasta King, said:
“Before the pandemic we had great working relationships with further education colleges throughout the country and we knew how to appeal to their diners needs.
“For example, when requests began to come in for plant based sauces, we were able to immediately communicate that we’d been making plant based sauces for years. We would see an increase in demand for pasta dishes from students studying eg engineering and sport as they would seek out the nutritional value and calorie burn and, since they’re spending their own money, in the majority of colleges, pricing was key.
“In the past year however, with more and more dining rooms being closed and students distance learning, we have had to reconsider our offering and that’s why we developed our new pouches. They have the added benefit of being labour saving and they are a genuinely healthy option. We’re not just a manufacturer, we’re a caring manufacturer.
“When schools and colleges reopen the pouches will provide a more nutritious option than a cheap ambient pasta sauce in a jar and the individual size is perfect for delivery to school and college kitchens.”
We spoke with Matt Green, Head of Commercial Services at South Devon College, who has witnessed changes like never before. Matt said:
“I am hopeful that we will be back to normality by September and we will take forward some great learnings from the past year, some which we would never have dreamed would be a consideration before. Like how we package cutlery and sachets to minimise touching.
“Pre-COVID-19 we would have prioritised cost effectiveness, quality and customer service but our priorities now and for the future will focus on safety and customer confidence. Most of our staff are currently on furlough and I call them regularly to keep them updated of our plans. Their relationships with the students have been impacted and this can have a detrimental effect on student wellbeing. Essentially before lockdown we were serving our students from what can only be described as triple glazing and the interaction and regularity had gone. Masks, visors, screens – the restrictions were really a barrier to customer service.
“While I believe that some students will be cautious, others will only be too glad to get back to meeting people in the dining room and I want us to be at the forefront of embracing their return.
“Pasta King will very much feature for us as we move forward as it’s simplistic and there’s safety in the compostable pots. There’s minimal touching involved and no sharing, it’s also cost effective and slick. The beauty about Pasta King too is that the allergen information is already there which we will be required to provide when Natasha’s Law comes into effect in October.”
With more than 25 years’ experience of supplying top quality, award-winning meals to the education sector, Pasta King is a trusted supplier to schools, universities and colleges.