Caterer says no profit in serving healthy school meals
Published Tuesday, September 13, 2011 10:22PM EDT
Students at an Ottawa-area high school are being forced to get their food elsewhere after the company that used to make meals in the cafeteria declined to do so this year, saying new healthy food guidelines have made the venture unprofitable.
The cafeteria at Arnprior District High School is closed after officials at catering company Browns Dining Solutions said the business of serving schools is no longer viable.
The School Food and Beverage Policy, which is part of Ontario's Healthy Food for Healthy Schools Act, came into effect on Sept. 1. It bans a number of products from schools, including fried foods, candy and sugary beverages. It also calls for 80 per cent of a school's menu to include foods that are high in nutrients and low in fat, sugar and sodium.
The new policy applies to all venues, such as cafeterias, vending machines and tuck shops, programs such as catered lunches and events like bake sales.
The Ontario government said the new measures are designed to combat the province's growing obesity problem. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Education, 28 per cent of Ontario children between the ages of two and 17 are overweight or obese.
But officials at Brown's, which used to service six schools in Renfrew County, including Arnprior District High, said the policy adversely affected its bottom line.
"The Ontario government banned approximately 80 per cent of all products students could buy last year, and are asking companies to bid on the remaining 20 per cent," Philip Brown told CTV News. "That's not a viable business opportunity."
As a result, the company opted not to submit a new bid when its contract to service the cafeteria expired.
Other schools have reported revenues at their cafeterias dropping by up to 30 per cent too.
Brown points out that students facing a cafeteria devoid of the foods they are used to eating will turn to fast-food outlets and convenience stores for their sugar and fat fixes.
He says students have been conditioned by advertising to favour junk food, and to change their tastes will take time. That's why the policy should have been rolled out gradually, he said.
"They have left students on their own to find their way," Brown said.
But Dr. Yoni Freedhoff of Ottawa's Bariatric Medical Institute says schools should be setting an example by offering healthy foods.
"The fact that kids are going across the street to buy crap is not an argument to sell crap in the schools," Freedhoff told CTV. "They can buy tobacco in the stores as well, but I don't think that would be a good thing to sell in the schools even if it made schools a profit."
The school board is still entertaining offers from other catering companies in the hopes that one sees potential profits in the healthy food business.
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip