Continuing the food theme, Jamie Oliver’s intrusion into the school meals industry can do nothing but harm in the short term for the reputation of the Compass Group, which owns school meals provider Scolarest, and, further up the commercial food chain, Burger King. Oliver attacked the firm in his Channel 4 documentary Jamie’s Dinners Wednesday night. Critically acclaimed, Oliver’s show demonstrated that the kids would eat his highly nutritious food and it could be provided at the same cost as the much more dubious fare served up by Scolarest under contract to a Durham school. Scolarest’s boss defended himself on camera arguing he was trying to improve the product all the time, but said he was trying to provide his “customers” with a choice. It was an unfortunate choice of words in a conversation about children’s health and behaviour. Some media training definitely needed there.

Perhaps more disturbing for food companies was the experience of one family whose child had been particularly resistant to Jamie’s attempts to get his new charges to try his non-processed food. After the 10-days away from their normal diet of processed food, the family reported an instantaneous improvement in the children’s behaviour–their rogue son reportedly now full of love and affection for his parents and siblings rather than a disruptive influence from morning till night.

Graphic demonstrations such as this in the hands of an evangelist such as Oliver are likely to have a dramatic effect on public opinion and consumer patterns. Oliver promotes Sainsburys, whose margins, along with other food retailers, will suffer if there is a large-scale shift away from processed food. It remains to be seen from the later programmes if his larger project in South East London will have such an impact, although Greenwich council reports that they have now banned processed foods in school meals and are extending the Oliver approach across the borough. Assuming other councils follow suit, a revolution in food culture might be in the offing at grass roots level.

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