IF SOME WORKERS, after months spent at home, reluctantly concede that they are missing their colleagues, few will admit any longing for the office c
IF SOME WORKERS, after months spent at home, reluctantly concede that they are missing their colleagues, few will admit any longing for the office canteen. Companies that cook up meals for workers, pupils and hospital patients have been hit by covid-19 just as hard as restaurants (usually) open to the public. As employees trickle back to cafeterias, their prospects look no less mixed than those of other eateries.
What purveyors of catered grub lack in customer enthusiasm they make up for in size. The four big food-outsourcing firms—Compass Group in Britain, America’s Aramark and Sodexo and Elior in France—together serve up perhaps 14bn meals a year. Of the nearly $300bn spent on feeding workforces, student bodies and the like, roughly half is outsourced, and half of that goes to the multinationals. Growth was steady if not spectacular before covid-19, helped by acquisitions of local rivals.
Lockdowns have brought short-term pain and long-term uncertainty. Beyond offices, food outlets everywhere from schools to stadiums and conference centres are shut. A few usually reliable earners have dried up: hospital catering has slowed as beds were freed up for covid patients and visits banned. Even some prisoners, literally captive consumers, have been let out because of the pandemic. Compass, the biggest of the big four, said in May that half its 600,000 staff were on furlough.