Parent uses his passion for food to help pupils
FATHER of two Ken Boland has always had a passion for health and nutrition, and first put this passion into practice when he founded a charity encouraging school children to make healthy eating choices. But soon the Clare man realised that action rather than words was the best solution, and set up the School Food Company to supply schools with more nutritious foods. He spoke to Sarah McCabe:
My degree from the University of Limerick (UL) was in sports science, and I set up health charity Redbranch with colleagues from UL to try and educate kids about the importance of exercise and proper nutrition. But once lunch came, the kids would walk out of our seminars and into the nearest tuck shop, which sold nothing but Coca-Cola, Tayto and Mars bars. I realised more needed to be done.
That's where the School Food Company comes in. We fit schools with the kitchens needed to produce healthy school lunches and then our staff work in the schools every day to prepare and sell food on-site ourselves. It's so difficult for busy parents to make a healthy packed lunch every day, so we make their lives easier too.
I founded the company in 2007 and it now employs 26 people. Our revenues for 2013 should hit €350,000 and we've more than doubled the number of schools we work with during the year. We currently operate in seven schools and colleges in and around Co Clare.
"The beauty of the concept is that the schools don't have to pay any big investment. We fund the initial cost of setting up, and make our profits from selling food.
Some schools need more investment than others. Our first, Ennis Community College, already had a good kitchen, so required less than €1,000, but the average we spend now is about €18,000 per school.
We use food we trust that has been locally sourced. It's all reasonably priced: a wrap, bottle of water and a piece of fruit, for example, costs about €3.50. Some of the steps we've taken to improve food quality are simple, like replacing white rolls with wholemeal.
Our menus are very varied and include dishes such as stir-fries and stuffed baked potatoes -- healthy and tasty food. There are many organic and vegetarian options, too. We also run healthy eating and nutrition awareness campaigns in the schools we operate in; it's not just about selling food.
The biggest challenge to setting up, like most businesses, related to cash flow. The company has been completely self-funded, grown by reinvesting profits. We had to be very lean starting off.
We're different from competitors in two ways: one, our emphasis is on health, and two, we're prepared to go into a school of any size. Sodexo and other rivals favour larger schools but we don't have those limits, we'll assess the needs of any school and go from there.