Inflation on the menu of school canteens. Collective catering companies have been warning for several months: preparing meals for schoolchildren is costing them more and more. They are therefore asking local authorities to agree to pay more than their contracts stipulated. To cope with inflation, the National Syndicate of Collective Catering requested an average 7% increase from town halls, Wednesday August 24 on franceinfo. In June, the Association of Mayors of France was already planning increases of 5 to 10% in the price of the meal.
> Increase in the price of school meals: the municipalities appeal to the State
Franceinfo answers three questions on the reasons for this increase, and its consequences on the budget of households or town halls.
Why is the cost of preparing meals increasing?
The main reason for this increase is inflation. It averaged 6.1% in July in France over one year, according to INSEE. On food products, it is much higher. “We are seeing an increase of around 10% in the prices of the raw food material, that is to say vegetables and meat, with which the 100,000 cantiniers in France make meals for children every day”, announces Anne-Laure Desclèves, spokesperson for the National Union of Collective Catering (SNRC). Certain products such as pasta, minced steaks or oil have flambéed.
The rise in energy prices is also a major factor in the increase in canteen prices. Electricity and gas are essential for cooking food, washing dishes, or keeping ingredients cold.
The start of 2022 was also complicated for the sector. With the health protocols in January-February 2022, classes sometimes closed at the last minute and the meals produced were not consumed, according to Anne-Laure Desclèves of the SNRC. “We were not paid for all these surpluses”she says, explaining that she no longer has any margin to deal with inflation.
And it may not be over, because the drought that is hitting France has led “between 25% and 35%” drop in production, according to the president of Légumes de France. This could lead to further price increases.
Who will pay the bill?
“Current inflation exceeds what was foreseeable”explains to AFP Esther Kalonji, general delegate of the National union of collective catering. Current contracts “are no longer sufficient to take into account the increase in the cost of raw materials, wages, but also energy”. For school canteens, the town hall is responsible for providing a balanced meal to students at lunchtime. Negotiations are therefore made on a case-by-case basis between the municipalities and the collective catering companies, which manage 40% of school canteens within the framework of a public service delegation, 60% being managed directly by the municipalities. In any case, this increase in costs weighs first on the municipalities. They can then decide whether or not to pass it on to the parents of the students.
The mayor of Aix-en-Provence refuses to weigh this increase on the family budget. “However, the cost of a meal has gone from 9.96 euros in 2019 to 12.72 euros at the end of 2021. For 2022, it should reach 13 euroscalculates Sophie Joissains (UDI) in The world. We make choices about our other expenses.”
The city of Ajaccio has also decided not to touch the price of meals, despite significant additional costs. “We try to find the right balance between meals at reasonable prices and meeting the nutritional needs of children”, says Marie Ottavy Sarrola, deputy mayor in charge of school affairs, to France bleu.
But not all municipalities make this choice. In a school near Lyon, in L’Arbresle, prices increased by 10% in March and a comparable increase is planned for 2023, as reported by France 2. The municipality takes charge of a small part, but the essential will be borne by the families. Parents will pay between 20 to 50 cents extra per meal, depending on their income.
Are there alternatives to the price hike?
Rather than increasing their rates, some municipalities are trying to find other solutions. Modify the recipes, remove a yogurt or a piece of cheese, reduce the weight of the portions… These alternatives can be considered, provided that the nutritional rules applied to school canteens are respected. “We exchange for more flexibility in recipes, weight, substitutions without compromising on nutritional quality”confirms the secretary general of the SNRC to BFMTV.
In Mouans-Sartoux in the Alpes-Maritimes, the city has decided to replace part of the animal proteins with vegetable proteins, as reported by TF1. At the start of the school year, half of the meals will therefore be vegetarian, and the municipality produces its own vegetables.
Another lever to reduce costs is to fight against food waste. “About 10% of the meals we produce every day are thrown away”, explains Anne-Laure Desclèves, spokesperson for the National Union of Collective Catering at franceinfo. To reduce this scourge, she appeals to the responsibility of parents: “Notify in advance of the absence of your child!”