which is why the price of the meal is likely to rise again

After a 4% rise this year, the sector is asking councils for a further 7% increase to compensate for inflation on many products and the rise in wages. Elected officials worry and try to adapt.

In the long list of price increases that French households will have to digest this autumn, the bill for school canteens, which is not immune to inflation, is now included.

The National Union of Collective Catering (SNRC), whose companies manage 40% of the country’s canteens, has already received from the town halls (which bill this service to the students’ parents) a 4% increase for the year 2022-2023 as part of annual contract renegotiations.

But for the sector, this will not be enough to compensate for the continued increase in certain costs: food (pasta has increased by 40%, ground beef by 25%), energy, not to mention the many increases in the minimum wage for catering staff school .

“Suppliers wrote to us to tell us that the indexation measures in the markets were not sufficient and that it was necessary to implement the theory of unpredictability”, which allows the terms to be renegotiated in the event of a situation that is unpredictable economy, states, to France Info, Philippe Laurent, Vice-President of the Association of Mayors of France (AMF) and Mayor of Sceaux.

The sector demands at least +7%

The SNRC is asking for at least another 7%, a new increase which will be applied to families in whole or in part between December and January next. New negotiations between manufacturers (Sodexo, Elior, etc.) and the mayors of France will soon take place.

“Today what would be playable is a minimum increase of around 7% knowing that we have inflation of 6.1% on all products and 10% for some of them.” confirms Esther Kalonji, Secretary General of SNRC, to BFM Business.

The manager reminds that the multi-year contracts signed between producers and local communities contain provisions for revision, especially in December-January. “But we have never suffered this unprecedented inflation, and the audit mechanisms do not take that into account,” she recalls.

Elected officials hear these requests, but are concerned about their already very limited budgets because it is the municipalities that have the final say, as they set the rates that households pay.

They may well refuse these increases without voiding the contract. “Our companies cannot withdraw from signed contracts”, which run for periods of 3 to 5 years.

There is therefore no risk of seeing a service provider stop supplying food to schools. “But we cannot operate at a loss, so we ask that if a principal refuses a raise, we can withdraw,” explains Esther Kalonji.

No risk of stopping meal deliveries if a town hall rejects the price increase

On the municipalities’ side, apart from refusing the increase, the room for maneuver is quite limited: take over all or parts of this increase (and therefore lower the budget for other expenditure items), or leave the rates as they are, but raise local taxes.

In Ajaccio in Corsica and in Libourne, we have chosen not to increase the price that families are currently paying. “There is actually a political choice which is not to make the families bear this price increase. And then suddenly we have chosen to absorb it with the city budget”, explains Thierry Marty, assistant delegate for education for Europe 1. of the city of Gironde.

“Some municipalities have already increased the prices for families in September. In general, there will be other repercussions in the coming months” confirms for his part at FigaroJean-Philippe Dugoin-Clément, Vice-President of the Association of Mayors of Île-de-France (Amif) and UDI Mayor of Mennecy.

Another option is to request changes to the offer to reduce the unit price. In fact, negotiation takes precedence. “We exchange a lot with the municipalities to find solutions” confirms the SNRC’s general secretary.

“We’re all in the same boat”

This may involve a change in the recipes or in the weight of the portions, while respecting the nutritional rules imposed on school canteens. An option that is far from unanimous considering the importance of this meal for children from fragile homes who sometimes do not eat breakfast.

“We are talking about more flexibility in recipes, weight, substitutions without compromising on nutritional quality. We also work a lot with waste. Everyone is a bit stuck, so we have to implement new solutions, we are all in the same boat,” emphasizes Esther Kalonji. And to confirm that communities are already working on these levers.

Especially since the Egalim Law plans to impose more quality and/or organic food on children’s plates. Or an additional cost for producers and municipalities. It will therefore still be necessary to find solutions to absorb the costs of these restrictions, “especially with farmers”, she adds.

However, it must be remembered that the government has provided support measures. The amending budget proposal contains specific appropriations for local authorities, particularly for the improvement of school canteens.

On the family side, depending on the establishments, partial coverage or a decreasing rate can be applied on the basis of the family quotient determined by the Family Subsidy Fund (CAF).

Overall, in France, the canteen concerns approx. 1 out of 2 students every day, i.e. 6 million children and teenagers. Almost one billion meals are served each year.

Olivier Chicheportiche Journalist BFM Business

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