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Senior figures call on catering industry to embrace value of social enterprise

The foodservice sector needs to do more to showcase the commercial value social enterprises can bring to workplace clients, according to a high-profile roundtable discussion held by Bartlett Mitchell.

Catering consultants, social enterprise leaders and Bartlett Mitchell senior management gathered at a specially arranged event held in London, aiming to identify the challenges and barriers to entry for businesses with a social purpose.

There are around 100,000 social enterprises in operation in the UK, employing two million workers and contributing £60bn to the economy through their efforts to transform society. While that accounts for 3% of total GDP, the small scale of most of these social enterprises means that they can struggle to build capacity.

Amy Kimbangi, founder and director of not-for-profit caterer and community training provider Good Measure, said, “There is an opportunity for contract caterers to pair up with social enterprises but more needs to be done explain how both parties can benefit.”

The discussion focused on barriers caterers face when looking to engage with clients. The existing model means that caterers must first secure buy in from their clients before bringing external social enterprises into their venues and sites. This is where a number of challenges often arise.

Recruitment was found to be one of the biggest issues to overcome, with clients fearful about employing ex-offenders or people with mental health conditions, while language issues might get in the way of recruiting refugees. It was also shown to be one of the biggest benefits to a sector already struggling with recruitment challenges.

Chris Wright, chief executive of social reform organisation Catch-22, said, “There is evidence that if you employ people who have a criminal record, they will give you absolute loyalty because they will value the opportunity. If you recruit chefs who are refugees, they are usually incredibly skilled, talented, committed and enthusiastic. Business needs to make these links.”

He stressed that companies should look solely at the business benefit, as opposed to any charitable justification. He said: 'People shouldn't use the story to get a charitable response, they need to make sure it’s a compelling commercial proposition because ultimately customers or clients will go somewhere else if the service is not good.

”There is a ready supply of labour but we aren’t looking in the right places. We need to think of social enterprises fulfilling a business need and not a charity tick box.”

Wendy Bartlett, founder and chairman of Bartlett Mitchell, said, “This forum has been important for networking, facilitating the conversation and making connections for collaboration in the future. It is clear that the three-way relationship between client, caterer and customer can benefit by bringing a social enterprise into the fold.

'We are facing all sorts of challenges in the sector so we all need to find innovative and different ways to building and maintain the growth of the industry.'

Bartlett continued, “For many years, companies viewed investing in social impact as ‘icing on the cake’ instead of a ‘must-have’ for their businesses. That’s all changing. In 2020, it will no longer be a choice for companies to embed social impact into their business and brand strategies - it’ll be imperative.

“In fact, recent research has found the 88% of millennials say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issue. These small differences will make the largest impact in the future.”