Is my product right for healthcare foodservice?
By Mike Morris, National Account Manager, FusionFSM
I never cease to be impressed by the work our healthcare caterers do and what they manage to deliver against a challenging backdrop. I’ve seen a lot of changes in this segment over the years and there’s quite a lot to consider when it comes to knowing whether a product is right for this sector specifically.
For starters, healthcare caterers aren’t necessarily prioritising the latest food trends as highly as other sectors. They tend to be more interested in innovation when it comes to improving nutrition and are looking for products that remove complexity. Although, while it may be slightly lower on the priority list, there are still of course plenty of forward-thinking healthcare chefs out there looking to push the boundaries within their budgets.
There are more pressures on healthcare caterers than ever before to deliver good quality food that ticks a lot more boxes, with allergens, dietary requirements and sustainability to consider against a background of increasing costs and budgets that have hardly shifted.
The challenges seem to become tougher and tougher every year and manufacturers can do a lot to support the healthcare market by providing timesaving, nutritious products that are also cost-effective.
To better understand the healthcare foodservice market, it’s worth looking at the two parts separately: hospitals and care homes. Although there are some parallels, there are key differences that you need to understand if you’re going to know if and how your product will work in this market.
How can I get my product into hospitals?
Each hospital trust does its own thing, but they’re all guided by the same objectives and frameworks that aim to deliver healthy, nutritious food. Understanding the various routes to market is quite important. Trusts don’t just have one supplier, they’ll buy from several to ensure they’re able to find a variety of cost-effective products, which gives us more opportunities to reach them.
The first step is getting your product onto a contract, for example the NHS supply chain, or one of the wholesalers that supplies hospitals. You don’t have to get on every contract, just some of the contracts they have access to.
Some are more challenging than others to get onto – the NHS supply chain has very strict rules and guidelines about how they source, so they do it through tender.
You need to know when the tender is coming out, bid on that, and if you don’t get on it, you know you’ve got a long wait for that to come round again.
Whereas with a national wholesaler, as long as you have a product listed, you can talk to the person within that organisation who manages the account, state your case that your product is a good fit and has interest, and ask them to add it to their contract with the NHS.
Then it’s about stimulating interest at the hospital end – going into those sites, engaging with the catering manager, explaining the product’s nutritional benefits, which framework it’s available on and how cost-effective it is.
Patient catering in hospitals is often constrained to a small budget while still being required to deliver nutritious meals to people recovering from illness.
There are also physical challenges of getting food to the wards, how long will the food hold in a heated trolley? It’s no good having a great product that’s easy to make if, by the time it reaches a patient, it’s turned to mush.
And it’s not just about feeding patients. It’s also about staff and visitors, and those groups have different needs.
Staff and visitor catering tends to have a higher budget because it can make a profit, there tends to be a lot more variety and it’s more focused on delivering good quality, appealing food.
Catering managers are trying to do two different roles, effectively, and what is offered at ward-level may be quite different to the visitor café.
What are the considerations when it comes to the care sector?
Care catering has a lot of similarities, and of course some crossover in terms of needs, but there are also differences.
Elderly patients may have specific needs when it comes to portions, for example, they may need smaller portions that deliver more calories. Residents may also have less dexterity and need packaging that is easier to open, or soft eating products if they have problems chewing or swallowing. Cost is also a huge challenge here.
So, what should you be considering if you’re looking at launching a product in the healthcare sector and wondering whether it will fit?
Cost is key
You can have the best product in the world but if healthcare caterers can’t afford it, they won’t buy it, and they’re working to increasingly squeezed budgets.
If we’ve got a product that’s especially cost-effective compared to the competition, that gives us a really good door-opener.
Healthcare caterers are more constrained than a restaurant or pub, which, in theory, can charge more for a product if prices go up.
Healthcare establishments don’t have that luxury, they have to work within a set budget. So, while many categories have seen massive price increases, they’re having to be more creative, and any way a manufacturer can support this is a bonus.
Is it nutritious?
Healthcare catering managers are also often time-poor and don’t have time to assess the details on the back of the packet against their own criteria. Make it simple by presenting the information on calories, nutrition and portion clearly, as well as cost per portion. Show you understand the client’s portion, nutrition and cost requirements and how your product will deliver those. Preparation and showing how the products fits into their needs is key.
If your product is already available in retail and displays the nutritional traffic light system, that’s what they will tend to look at first. If it’s green, you’re good to go. If it’s red, in many cases, forget it – unless of course they’re looking for a product to treat low blood sodium levels or boost calorie intake. Being aware of their specific needs will help you here.
If we’ve got a product that ticks the cost and nutrition boxes and they also don’t have to worry about allergens on top of that, you’re away.
Another thing to consider is sustainability. We’re seeing the interest in this return very strongly post-pandemic, especially around reducing single-use plastic.
It’s key to understand what healthcare catering managers need from a product. Half the challenge is understanding the sector and why the product is right for them so you can talk to them with knowledge and confidence.
This is where we come in. We have decades of experience in the sector, an understanding of their needs and the challenges they face, and long-standing relationships built on trust. We’re also constantly on top of changing legislation, food standards and guidelines, such as Natasha’s Law, to ensure your product is compliant.
We have members of the team that can help you get your product on a framework and generate interest at end user level to pull those sales through, and we’re only an email or a phone call away.
If you’d like to chat through any of this, just drop me a line at email@example.com.
Mike Morris, National Account Manager, FusionFSM