Cracking the School Lunch Problem
Blacher also hopes that by getting a foot into the school-lunch market, it will eventually open up avenues into the larger commercial foodservice market, such as universities, hospitals and senior centers, in order to help solve America's obesity problem.
"We would love for this brand and concept to be a springboard for us to really evaluate the quality of food for a variety of different industries and markets," Blacher says.
The biggest challenge is likely getting schools on board with a new food system when many use more traditional ways of thinking about their food service (as in the cheapest solution often wins). Private schools are a bit easier to contract with as they are not mandated by federal standards so there's a bit more wiggle room for new programs and perhaps more forward thinking by administrators.
"We have some locations who open their business with one or two accounts, some locations who open their business with five, six or seven schools they deliver to. It really depends on how aggressive they want to grow with their business and how ready the community is for the product," Blacher says.
While the company's initial franchise expansion has focused on individually owned and operated franchises, Blacher anticipates school licensees to quickly become a significant portion of the business.
"Self-operating schools are roughly 40% of all on-site schools while the other 60% choose to outsource to a third party," she says. "This is a huge growth opportunity for us as we seek to provide healthy school solutions to all schools."
Augusta Preparatory Day School in Martinez, Ga., served its first Wholesome Tummies lunch last week.
It is the first school to partner directly with Wholesome Tummies to overhaul its dining program by licensing its food preparation, recipes and processes for self-operation. Augusta Prep already had a working kitchen and foodservice staff but the number of students purchasing meals has been on the decline.
"We thought we could do a better job (of providing nutritional lunches)," says Becky Gilmore, Augusta Prep's head of school.
"So basically we're partners with (Wholesome Tummies). They provide us with training, an assessment of our facilities, the recipes, and helped us locate vendors that would be appropriate," Gilmore says. "We went from opening a can and heating up processed food approach to something completely different."
August Prep's cafeteria serves about 555 students in grades pre-school through 12.
All students still purchase food beforehand -- for younger students, the choice is made by their parents, for upper grades, it's a point-of-service system.
"The food is somewhat more expensive to eat that way but we feel that it is an important step for us to take," acknowledges Gilmore, noting that lunch prices are about 75 cents more than with the school's previous foodservice program.
August Prep is hoping the new program will generate revenue for the school, even though it's not the primary intent, Gilmore says.
Gilmore notes that while it's still early, there has already been positive reaction.
"I believe they are on to something here," Gilmore says.
-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.
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