The catering company at the centre of a row over meagre free school meal parcels for schoolchildren has apologised again and will cover the cost of meals over February half-term.
The move by Compass, a FTSE 100 company, came after its subsidiary, Chartwells, faced significant criticism in January when pictures of its food parcels for children eligible for free school meals were widely shared. The parcels were supposed to help children in low-income families while schools in the UK were closed by lockdowns.
Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United footballer who has mounted a campaign to secure good nutrition for schoolchildren, described the food parcels, as well as those provided by other companies, as “unacceptable”.
Compass said on Thursday it recognised “the quality and quantity of some food parcels fell short of our usual high standards”.
It added: “After conducting a thorough investigation, we have taken several corrective measures that include improved supply chain processes, additional guidance and resources for our employees, and stronger quality assurance checks.
“Since 25 January, Chartwells has been providing breakfasts to all children currently receiving a lunch parcel from us for the duration of school closures. We will also provide those same children with lunch and breakfast parcels through the February half-term break. The costs of these initiatives will be covered by Compass.”
It made the comments as it published a trading update to coincide with its annual shareholder meeting. Compass said global revenues in the last three months of 2020 were down by a third compared with 2019, but added that it had returned to profitability in Europe for the first time during the pandemic.
Compass is the world’s largest catering company, with 550,000 employees operating canteens and cafeterias around the world. It has been hard hit by the pandemic as schools, events and workplaces have been closed, but it has returned to profit by cutting costs and making some workers redundant.
The provision of free school meals in the UK represents only a tiny part of its global profits, but Compass in January hurriedly agreed to cover the costs of substandard food parcels as well as putting in place extra checks as it sought to limit the reputational damage. Compass has suffered controversy in the past, when its provision of Turkey Twizzlers became a symbol of inadequate school food provision.
Dominic Blakemore, Compass’s chief executive, did not take questions from the media on Thursday, and the company’s annual meeting was only open to shareholders. In an hour-long call with investment banks Blakemore did not address the food parcels scandal.
During the period in which the substandard meals were provided, Compass received £50m from government furlough schemes. It expects to receive another £40m during the first three months of 2021.