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Investigate the Impact of Hungry for Success in Scotland on food purchased to supply the education sector and other parts of the cost sector provision
Project Code: S14019
MacLeod, P ; Wilson, N
This study was conducted in the wider context of Scottish Executive’s ongoing efforts to improve the diet of Scottish people, and particularly of schoolchildren through improving the nutrient standards of meals served in Scottish schools as outlined in Hungry for Success: A Whole School Approach to School Meals in Scotland (HfS) (Scottish Executive 2002). The Target Nutrient Specifications for Manufactured Products (TNSMP) (Food Standards Agency Scotland 2004) were developed in Scotland to assist purchasers and caterers with meeting the Scottish Nutrient Standards for School Lunches which formed part of the HfS document. While this research project was being carried out, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) launched a UK wide public consultation on target nutrient specifications for manufactured products used in school meals throughout the UK. The target nutrient specifications for manufactured foods used in school meals in Scotland were subsequently revised in May 2006to reflect these new UK-wide figures.
In keeping with the desire of the Scottish Executive to improve the diet of adults as well as school children, they have published a commitment to ensure adequate nutritional standards in public sector organisations such as prisons, hospitals and care homes. The Food Standards Agency Scotland (FSAS) shares in that strategic objective (FSA 2005).
TNS System Three conducted this research for the FSAS to:
- explore the extent to which the TNSMP has improved the food supplied to the education sector;
- investigate the influence the TNSMP has had on food supplied across other public sector organisations in Scotland and to the education sector in the rest of the UK.
The study was a qualitative research exercise which was designed to explore the opinions and perceptions of respondents about the impacts of the TNSMP, rather than to quantify those impacts. The researchers conducted 32 telephone interviews with respondents who would be aware of the impact of the nutrient specifications on the school meals sector and across the public sector more widely. Suppliers, purchasers of food for the schools sector and for other public sector organisations in Scotland were contacted and interviewed between October 2005 and March 2006. The suppliers included foodservice companies, manufacturers and wholesalers, and were a mixture of larger and smaller companies. Purchasers included buying consortia, partnerships, and local authorities that purchased catering supplies individually. Purchasers responsible for catering supplies within the health service and the prison service in Scotland were also contacted to take part in the research.
Research Question 1: Impact on Food Supplied to the Education Sector in Scotland
The research found that some manufactured products supplied to schools in Scotland have improved nutrient profiles (based on suppliers’ assertions) and that these improvements can be linked directly to the TNSMP. However, behind this apparently simple finding, there is a need for further explanation and qualification.
Improvements to Manufactured Products
The improved manufactured products that were being supplied included existing products not previously supplied to schools or ones that had been redeveloped to meet the specifications, as well as newly developed products. The impetus to develop or source products came in different ways. Local authorities and purchasing consortia had been directly involved in discussions with suppliers to develop or reformulate products to meet reduced sodium and fat content specifications. In other cases wholesalers, reacting to demand from purchasers, had encouraged development of new and existing products from their suppliers. Occasionally, suppliers with existing manufactured products that met the nutrient specifications and that were not previously supplied to schools had approached purchasers directly to make them aware of these products. In general these enterprising suppliers tended to be smaller, often Scottish-based manufacturers.
The Wider Context: School Meals and Food Supplied to Schools
It is difficult to isolate the particular effects that the TNSMP has had. During the interviews, it became clear that it was not easy for most suppliers and purchasers to distinguish between different strands of HfS including the wider aims of that document, the guidelines on Nutrient Standards for School Lunches contained within it, and the TNSMP. Essentially they, rightly, viewed these as an overall package. At the same time, the broader guidance of the Nutrient Standards for School Lunches was easier to interpret than the nutrient specifications. For example, some purchasers were confused about the definitions of manufactured and processed products and consequently what products were covered by the specifications.
A consequence of the overall drive to improve food in schools was a general move away from processed food to using fresh ingredients and preparing meals from scratch. While the TNSMP itself did not suggest the need for this, the recommended weekly salt intake through school lunches would be exceeded if a large number of manufactured products were used. Both suppliers and purchasers confirmed this trend. In some cases, where products have been reformulated to meet nutrient specifications, they were still rejected by purchasers.
Wider Influences in Society
It is important to note that the drive to improve food in schools is also one of a number of influences in society more generally. These include the shift towards healthier eating and food provision, and a growing demand from consumers for processed products with reduced fat and salt content. There is also increasing incidence of obesity, in particular childhood obesity, and awareness of the problems it can cause. This makes the specific impacts of the TNSMP harder to isolate.
Concerns about Testing Nutrient Specifications
A number of products being supplied as meeting the TNSMP did not have complete information on nutrient content provided. Generally they were not being tested to check nutrient profiles did meet specifications. Many purchasers did not feel confident in doing this as they did not have the skills themselves, nor did they have the skills available to them, to undertake testing. Purchasers also reported lack of time and/or money. However a number did express concern about this omission. Where testing of products had taken place, it was reported that some had been found not to meet the specifications claimed, which added to purchasers’ sense of omission.
It is perhaps unsurprising that purchasers were concerned about their ability to undertake testing, given the technical and legal complexities involved. At the same time in the interviews there was an underlying assumption that there was a need for the specifications to be ‘policed’ in some way. One suggestion was that a central body, such as the Food Standards Agency, should be responsible for testing products against claimed nutrient profiles, endorsing those found to match with some form of symbol so that purchasers could buy with confidence.
Research Question 2: Impact on Food Provision across Public Sector Organisations in Scotland and in Schools beyond Scotland.
The two areas of possible influence of the nutrient specifications beyond the immediate education sector in Scotland were considered in the research. These included the
The wider public sector within Scotland, principally social care services, the Health Service, and the Prison Service.
The education sector outwith Scotland, principally England.
As far as we can say within the parameters of the research, the TNSMP developed for Scottish schools have not directly influenced provision in schools outwith Scotland to any great extent. The most important indirect influence has been on the development of UK-wide specifications. Further, it appears there has been little influence on public sector provision in Scotland more widely. Where there has been influence it has been mainly incidental.
Other Public Sector Organisations in Scotland
In broad terms:
- Purchasers buying food on behalf of prisons in Scotland have awareness of products with improved nutritional profiles but do not necessarily currently purchase them;
- The nutrient specifications appear to have had no impact on food supplied to the NHS in Scotland, although this is based on very limited contact;
- There has been limited, direct impact on food supplied to care services, as food is sometimes prepared in schools for these services making use of the same products.
Prisons in Scotland
The importance of the inmates’ diet and the nutrient specifications of foods provided to the prisoners was an area that the Prison Service had recently begun to consider. They said that they had been in discussions with the Scottish Executive and the Food Standards Agency Scotland to take this issue further. Purchasers buying food on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service were aware of the TNSMP and were interested in developing similar specifications tailored to the nutrient requirements of prisoners. The organisation aims to develop its own nutrient specifications, in conjunction with the Food Standards Agency Scotland and the Scottish Executive. However there are other considerations that need to be taken into account in developing them. In contrast with spending on food for school children, where childhood obesity is an overriding issue influencing provision in schools, public concern is expressed about the costs of keeping prisoners in prison. This means cost is a key consideration when food is procured for prisoners. Another issue is the need to serve food which prisoners are accustomed to and want to eat. While children who want to eat less healthy food can often avoid school meals, prisoners do not have an alternative source of food. The consequences of this can be poor discipline or order in the prison.
The NHS in Scotland
The organisation procuring food on behalf of the NHS in Scotland declined to take part in the research. Through a limited conversation when trying to secure participation, it appeared that the TNSMP had had no impact on their supply, but this had to be taken in context of very little manufactured food being procured by NHS in Scotland.
Care services in Scotland
The TNSMP has had a direct impact on care services when the catering for such services is carried out in schools. Meals-on-wheels was the most common service catered for in this way, across a number of local authorities. Occasionally other care services, including homes for the elderly and day nurseries, were catered for by schools. In all of these cases, the same products would be used as were being used in schools. In specific local authorities, purchasing for other non-care services such as the museum service, the police headquarters and corporate catering was undertaken by those purchasing for schools. This means that some products that meet the TNSMP may also be purchased for use in those services.
Schools in the rest of the UK
The TNSMP has not had direct impact on schools in the UK, mainly because of the nature of suppliers. In some cases they were operating in the Scottish market only and did not supply the wider UK market. For the larger suppliers who took part in the research, the Scottish education sector was a small component of their total business, while the schools sector in England in particular, being larger, was potentially more important to them.
A number of the larger suppliers suggested that they waited to see what requirements might be for schools in the rest of the UK before adapting their products, in case there was a difference. This is because of the costs of developing new products, especially where the specification, for example for reduced fat levels, affects product performance. In some cases they also said they were unsure when the nutrient specifications were introduced whether this was something that would be a lasting requirement. Those manufacturers who were initially slow to react to the requirements have started to develop products latterly. In contrast, some other of the large suppliers were already developing healthier ranges in response to the wider influences discussed earlier.
Indirect influence of the Nutrient Specifications
There is one important way that the nutrient specifications in Scotland will indirectly influence the nutrient content of food supplied to schools in the rest of the UK. This is because the UK-wide nutrient specifications now introduced have been influenced by, and are broadly based on, those initially developed in Scotland.
- The impact of the TNSMP on improving the food supplied to school lunches in Scotland can be seen, though such impact is small. Other influences include the move away from manufactured goods to using fresh ingredients. Where manufactured products are purchased, the nutrient specifications of a number of those products appear to have improved. This is based on suppliers’ assertions which, largely, have not been independently verified.
- There has been little or no immediate impact on food served for school meals in the rest of the UK or on other public services in Scotland. The exception to this is in some parts of the social care sector, principally Meals-on-Wheels. Indirectly the TNSMP has influenced food supplied for school meals in the rest of the UK, and may influence food supplied to prisons in Scotland in the future
The TNSMP were designed as a tool to support the weekly Nutrient Standards for School Lunches which themselves were designed to improve the standard of food served in schools. It would therefore be unrealistic to expect the TNSMP themselves to have exerted widespread influence on food supplied to the public sector beyond Scottish schools. The fact that products claimed to have reduced fat, salt and sugar content are available to purchasers of food for schools as a result of the TNSMP does not mean that products will automatically be supplied to other public sector organisations, nor will they be necessarily sought out by purchasers. In order for the TNSMP’s influence to be more widespread specifications would need to be included in broader initiatives, like HfS, aimed at improving food served in particular public sector organisations. Indirectly the TNSMP’s biggest influence has been acting as a basis for nutrient specifications that are now available for all schools across the UK, and potentially extending into other sectors such as prisons in the future.
 Manufacturers are only required by law to give nutritional breakdown of the food if the label also makes a nutritional claim such as low fat or high fibre. Sometimes manufacturers provide this information voluntarily
 In the wider public sector we were principally investigating the influence on catering to the public as ‘users’ of the service (for example, patients, prisoners or residents in care homes), rather than catering for public sector staff
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