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a healthy outlook

More by Compass - Back to the Autumn 2010 issue
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case study

As a catering company, Compass has decided it should not be content just with providing lunchtime food to millions of school pupils - it wants to educate them too. While it has wisely steered clear of intervening in subjects such as physics and geography, it believes that, in its own words, it can 'put the fun back into food' by providing educational material on topics that naturally fall within its remit - healthy eating, cooking and nutrition.  

As a consequence, Compass has been reaching out to primary school children, secondary school students and sixth formers through day-schools, cookery lessons and games.

In Spain, for instance, it has been running an educational programme aimed at younger school children (three to 12 years) to increase their knowledge and awareness of healthy eating, balanced menus, table manners and food handling. The training features interactive games to show students how to prepare healthy menus, and even covers environmental aspects of food such as recycling and responsible consumption.

The annual programme has proved to be very successful, especially in combination with monitoring of children's eating habits and their levels of physical activity - which produces a full progress report provided to all parents. Since 2007, it has covered more than 540 schools and 85,350 students in Spain.

Compass has also run 'meet the grower' field trips in the UK, at which primary school children get a chance to look at how food is produced, learn what should be on their plate to ensure a healthy diet, and discover what happens to food waste and leftover school meals. There is a strong 'hands on' element to the trips, with children encouraged not only to see how food is made but to touch, feel and eat it at different stages of its production.  

Other Compass-led initiatives include healthy eating school assemblies - at which a chef leads a 15-minute session for the whole school on why good nutrition is important - and a scheme to help with the distribution of textbooks on health issues such as obesity. Schools have been quick on the uptake: in 2008/2009, Chartwells, an arm of Compass set up to oversee its work on health education, was able to run more than 140 courses across the UK for approximately 44,000 students.

All of these initiatives form part of Compass's 'Health and Wellbeing' programme which, alongside the firm's work on the environment, community issues and staff relations, is a major component of its corporate responsibility strategy. As a provider of an estimated four billion meals across the world each year, in workplace and school canteens, the UK-based company recognises it can have an 'enormous impact' on the millions of customers who use its services on a daily basis. As such - and against the backdrop of a heightened global awareness of the impact of diet on health - wellbeing and health is deemed the company's 'most significant impact'.

The educational role does not stop at the classroom, however. The company, which serves 20 million consumers every day in the UK, is also pushing ahead with improvements to nutritional information on its food.

This year Compass became the UK's first major food service company to provide nutritional information in a guideline daily amounts percentage format. But it's not just about providing information on potentially harmful levels of saturated fat and salt. Compass has committed to reducing the levels of saturated fat in its products and to cutting the levels of salt in bought-in products in line with 2012 salt targets set by the UK's Food Standards Agency.

In addition, the company also has a healthy eating programme called Balanced Choices.  Healthy menus are devised by dieticians, and have so far required the mandatory training of 800 Compass-employed catering managers and chefs.  Last year Compass announced a key performance indicator to increase the total number of outlets providing Balanced Choices (or equivalent healthy eating programmes) to three-quarters of businesses across its 'top ten' countries by the end of 2010.

Given that around a fifth of Compass's business comes from catering for schools, the company feels it has a particular responsibility toward the nutritional wellbeing of young people. Following a campaign launched by the television chef Jamie Oliver in 2005 to improve school dinners, healthy eating for children has become an increasing focus of attention for the UK government. Partly as a result of this, the business has had to alter its menus - and simultaneously face up to the challenge that the new menus might not always be offering young people what they would really like, given a completely free choice.

Outside the classroom, Compass has gone far beyond its core catering operations to provide a range of educational opportunities for consumers who are still in the process of learning how to make informed decisions. In addition to core education programmes, the company helps fund Medikidz, a child-friendly medical education publisher that teaches children about obesity and other illnesses, and runs its own Junior Chefs' Academy, a short cooking course for secondary school pupils.

More than 3000 teenagers have graduated from the Academy since it began in 2003. The ten-week course, in addition to its links with the firm's concerns with health and wellbeing, also helps with some of Compass's other corporate responsibility and business goals: it is mainly run in areas with high unemployment and, according to the company, helps to improve the self-esteem and behaviour of some pupils. And, of course, some of these chefs of the future could always end up working in one of the company's kitchens.

Compass's educational work doesn't end with children. In addition to its increased labelling information, it is in the process of introducing personalised health and wellbeing programmes for 100,000 customers, as well as implementing a more general healthy eating programme within its 7000 UK and Ireland outlets.

The company recognizes that the nature of its core business means that health issues are something it needs to take extremely seriously, just as access to medicine makes up a major component of the CSR work of pharmaceuticals. Moreover, given the environments in which its restaurants operate, it is conscious that 'the food we provide may be the only nutritious meal eaten by our customers that day'. The work it has put in train may at least go towards ensuring that its customers get the most out of what is on offer.

more about Compass

Compass is one of the world's largest food groups, supplying catering services to businesses, schools and other organizations. The UK-based multinational had revenues of £14.5billion ($22.6bn, €17.1bn) in 2010 and has 50,000 staff in the UK and Ireland. It:
  has had a board-level corporate responsibility committee since 2007, providing direction and guidance on all aspects of business practice and responsibility
  has rolled out comprehensive nutritional information to more than 1300 workplaces in the UK
  has introduced a scheme of full product traceability within its supply chain to ensure food safety, sustainability and ethical standards
  has increased its purchasing of Marine Stewardship Certified products, local produce and Fairtrade food and drinks over the past year

IBE comment

Compass's programme has successfully delivered on a range of outcomes, including skills, education and access to healthy food for children and adults. The company has effectively identified how it can make a difference by taking advantage of channels that exist within its core business operations.  
Points to note:
  the education programmes around food and health awareness have met a real need - seen in the high take up
  Compass has been able to show how behaviours have actually changed as demand for healthy food has increased in schools
  the Chef's Academy is bringing life-long skills to teenagers  
  Compass recognizes the link between responsible practice and business success.

NICOLE DANDO, Institute of Business Ethics

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