Between the 5th and 7th of July McCain Foodservice attended the LACA Main Event 2017, the one and only exhibition for the UK’s education catering sector. With over 160 exhibitors and hundreds attending over the course of the three days, this year’s event provided a vital opportunity for professionals across the sector to get together and find solutions to the challenges that education caterers face.
This wasn’t our first time at a LACA event, and this year we were committed to showcasing new ways to help caterers offer nutritious and great tasting meals day in day out. With street food stalwarts Original Fry Up Material on hand to cook up twists on school dinner classics, all using the McCain Chef Solutions Simply range of products, we were showing caterers that getting students excited about food doesn’t necessarily have to be hard work.
The event also played host to experts from the catering, nutrition and political worlds, who over the course of three days offered up their insights on the education sectors biggest and most important current talking points.
If you didn’t manage to make it to the event this year, or didn’t get chance to pass by our stand, then don’t worry; we’ve recapped all our highlights of LACA 2017 below.
Bringing school dinners to the diner
LACA 2017 saw McCain team up once again with Jon Knight, head of London based street food outfit Original Fry Up Material. Jon and the OFM team are becoming a pretty regular fixture at McCain events of late, joining us at the Casual Dining Show, Pub 17, and the Publican Awards earlier on this year. At all events Jon cooked up new and exciting twists on street food using McCain products, and LACA 2017 was no different, with OFM handing out four bespoke dishes using our Chef Solutions range for attendees to try throughout the day.
The menu presented an inspired and on trend take on classic school dinner fare, mixing OFM’s approach with international flavours. Although firmly rooted in street food culture, each dish was designed to meet the day to day needs of school cooks, with cost, preparation time and nutritional value all major considerations when formulating each recipe.
The first creation on show was a simple to prep Mexican inspired grab & go option, “Edgy Wedges”; McCain Simply Wedges topped with fresh Pico Di Gallo salsa, lime mayo and fresh herbs.
The second grab & go option took attendees to the opposite side of the world, with Simply Mash used to create pots of Allo Kofta “Bhangra Balls”; bite sized potato cakes, lightly spiced and stuffed with paneer cheese, served with a mild curry dipping sauce and yoghurt garnish.
Alongside the grab & go creations were two slightly more traditional lunchtime options, showing school caterers how small tweaks to classic recipes can make a big difference. First was the “Non-Traditional Roast, a classic family dinner given a “new school” tweak, with Simply Roasts served alongside pulled BBQ pork, smoked beans and slaw.
Last but not least was this year’s winning One Pot Meal Competition Recipe, with Rose Khans’ protein packed Chicken Bolognese and Simply Dice Potato cakes served with fresh herbs
In coming up with new takes on certified school meal classics, we presented to attendees four dishes that would stand up as well at a festival as they would in schools. Our menu was all about creating excitement about food, and showing that doing something different in the school canteen doesn’t need to be hard work.
If you’d like to find out more about the recipes we served at this year’s event, take a look here for more information.
Finding solutions to sector challenges
As well as being a great opportunity for those working in education to try out new products first hand, LACA also provides a valuable platform for discussing the challenges currently facing the sector. The event was home to a packed conference programme, with talks and panels on everything from the cost of school meals, understanding how to maximise productivity, and the range of choice given to students in schools.
Thursday was kicked off by journalist and BBC Today show presenter Justin Webb, who opened the floor to a panel of industry professionals for a wide ranging talk on the current state of education catering. The discussion included some eye opening stats from a recent LACA survey into the costs facing caterers, including the fact that most were concerned about the rising costs of running a kitchen, and were looking for ways to minimise the expenses they expect to face. It was positive to hear that rather than cutting corners, most respondents were likely to minimise costs by getting more creative in the kitchen, and up-skilling staff. As well as being an important insight in what caterers are thinking day to day, this response really chimed with the message we were presenting at this years’ event; that with the right approach, and right products, creativity in the kitchen doesn’t have to come with an added cost.
A look across the pond
On Thursday afternoon we also heard from nutritionist Dr Katie Wilson, who gave a talk on the approach to food and education in the United States. The US school meals programme – which caters to over 30.5 million students – received a huge reform in 2010 with the introduction of The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, with schools handed a greater responsibility to provide nutritionally balanced meals to all students.
Dr Wilson gave attendees an explanation of just some of the ways that schools are working to ensure all children receive nutritionally balanced meals, including the Community Eligibility Provision; an initiative to provide breakfast and lunch at no cost to students in the poorest areas. Also discussed was the Summer Food Service Programme, a scheme that provides students with access to balanced meals during school holidays.
The talk was hugely insightful, and although the US education system differs greatly to that in the UK, it was interesting to hear that schools and caterers in both countries both have a need to rise to the same operational challenges.
Shining a light on education catering
From the school cooks to the suppliers, the LACA main event wouldn’t happen without the hard work of all those involved in education catering. Thursday night provided an opportunity to celebrate the shining stars of the sector, with the return of the UK’s largest education catering awards, the LACA Awards for Excellence.
A total of thirteen awards were up for the taking this year, ranging from accolades for in house catering teams, primary and secondary school caterers, suppliers, and unsung individuals from throughout the sector.
This year McCain Foodservice were proud sponsors of the LACA Primary School Catering Team of the Year category, which recognises catering teams providing an outstanding level of service to primary school pupils in the UK. We’re delighted to say that on the night the award went to Toner Avenue Primary School and South Tyneside Catering Services, who were recognised for the enthusiasm, commitment, and creativity in the work they carry out.
The awards were a great way to wrap up what was perhaps the busiest of the event’s three days, and it’s also great news to hear that a charity raffle on the night raised £7,280 for Meal & More and Alzheimer’s Research UK.
All in all, this year’s event was a roaring success, and we’re sure that all who attended came back with new insights, approaches, and details of products that could work for them.
If you’d like to find out more information about our work in the Education sector, and how McCain products can help operators stand up to everyday challenges, then take a look at our school foodservice offering, or get in touch with us here.