Nutritious and delicious

Utilising fresh, high quality ingredients sourced from a trusted, local supply chain, HCL currently delivers cost-effective catering services to the education sector within, and beyond, the greater Hertfordshire area

An award-winning specialist caterer, HCL – an abbreviation of its trading name Hertfordshire Catering Limited – has established its foundation upon its work within the education sector. Providing quality services to schools, academies and colleges, its core aim is to continually improve school meals, and make lunchtime a positive and integral part of a child’s school experience. It does so whilst also maintaining a clear social ethos – one that is shared by its owners, Hertfordshire County Council – by bringing the acumen, drive and passion of a rapidly growing commercial organisation. Led by a professional and innovative management team, HCL’s skills, knowledge and commercial know-how have allowed it to gain a strong reputation for excellence, delivering customer centric services that are cost effective and quality focused.

“HCL was set up as a limited company in September 2013,” states Ian Hamilton, HCL’s Chief Executive Officer. Ian, himself, joined the business – first as Chief Financial Officer – in 2014, and has been in his present role since April 2018. “Prior to September 2013, HCL was almost exclusively focused on the supply of catering services to primary and secondary schools within Hertfordshire. Since then, our status as a limited company means that we have started to look at how we can build upon our expertise and credentials to expand the business.”

The efforts of Ian and the rest of the HCL team have resulted in the business securing contract wins through open tender outside of the county, and indeed in other industry sectors. “We have recently been awarded the catering contract for the four main office sites operated by Hertfordshire County Council, which will commence in March 2020,” Ian continues. “This is a very exciting development for the business, and one that will help us begin to widen our service base, which until now has been reliant upon the primary education sector. The new contract will represent a new challenge for us by targeting the adult market who have the choice of sourcing their meals via alternative outlets – but it is one we look forward to meeting head on.”

HCL prides itself on its passion for fresh, local and seasonal ingredients that help to provide dishes that are both popular with students, and comply with healthy eating standards and guidelines. Boasting Food for Life accreditation, HCL’s meals are designed to be fun and nutritious, and are delivered by a dedicated team of catering professionals, including dedicated nutritionists who are employed to develop and test all menu items.

As one can probably imagine, however, feeding some 56,000 primary aged pupils each day is quite the feat, and with so many different tastes to satisfy HCL has had to become as flexible as possible to meet the needs of as many mouths as possible. “We typically have two three-week menu cycles per year, and when we choose to add or modify dishes we endeavour to take them out to schools so that pupils can sample them and provide their own feedback on what they like or don’t like,” Ian explains. “We put a huge amount of thought and planning into our meals to ensure that they are not only healthy, nutritious and pleasant on the eye, but most importantly, that they are enjoyed. In addition to our meals, we also strive to identify where we can provide value added services. Such activities include visiting schools to run classes focusing on healthy eating, or by running special learning sessions that see children making their own fresh smoothies using pedal power on our unique smoothie making bicycles!”

Feeding such a large number of people on any given day also means that HCL has to be constantly aware of the dangers of allergies or intolerances, and as such it has established a rigorous process to provide the safest meal service possible. “In 2018, we introduced what we describe as an electronic, on-line allergy management account system,” Ian details. “The system gives parents of children with specific dietary needs the ability to provide the necessary medical information allowing them to receive specially designed menus to meet their requirements. Details can then be amended with any changes to dietary needs going forward so that new menus can be sent out as and when they change. This system has proven to be extremely useful, with over 2200 children today enjoying the benefits.”

Technology has been a key theme of Ian’s time at the helm of HCL, with investment in the company’s IT infrastructure being of particular interest to him. “Given the nature of our work and the fact that we are operational at some 430 sites each day, communication between our teams and the question of how we feed information back and forth 65is a particular challenge of ours,” he highlights. “As such, we have set about investing in our IT capabilities, which in turn is beginning to deliver greater efficiencies across the business.”

Ask around the countless schools, academies and colleges that call upon HCL for their catering needs and it will soon become clear that the strong reputation that the business retains has been well earned. As Ian goes on the conclude: “The task is now for it to see how it can take its efforts to date forward and expand out into different arenas and regions. Universally, our customers consider us to be an honest business and one that delivers on the promises we make. What we intend to do is leverage that trust and our track record to build an even-more successful organisation, and one that not only our customers, but also our employees, can continue to be proud to be associated with.”