A Fresh Approach to Catering
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
Adopting a new strategic business angle to differentiate it from the increasingly saturated catering market, Capitol Caterers is bringing together its industry expertise and high levels of professional service to target the three meals a day market across the SADC member states.
“Having grown into a national organisation since establishment in 1992, we are now the preferred service provider in Southern Africa, with more than 100 contracts undertaken at any given time,” explains Eelco Camminga, who has held the position of Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) since October, 2013.
Expanding its initial focus on South Africa’s education sector with subsequent entry into the areas of healthcare and welfare, industrial, corporate and in-flight catering, Capitol Caterers’ complete service offering has facilitated rapid growth both nationally and internationally.
“Adding further value, our business has expanded into site facilities management, where we provide the full spectrum of services including catering, cleaning, laundry and so on. Further, we have listened to our customers and now offer function catering to our existing clients, delivered with a uniquely personal touch,” he adds.
With healthy eating trends driving healthy competition in Africa’s catering industry, Capitol Caterers is keen to demonstrate that it can differentiate on not only a service level, but provide nourishing, varied and wholesome food; adopting a philosophy wholly-focused on “providing a home away from home in our food”. Camminga highlights: “We pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t lose contracts due to poor service and we place enormous value on long-term partnerships to ensure we maintain our high levels of service excellence. For example, in the three meals a day market, there is much more of a focus on nutritional value which we take very seriously.”
Targeting hospitals, schools and retirement homes through its new strategic angle, Capitol Caterers is looking to refresh the traditional approach to catering in these markets. “And all of these markets have different needs to satisfy, such as dietary requirements, portion sizes and nutritional value, and we are constantly asking for feedback to make sure our dishes remain relevant,” adds Camminga. “In addition, we have to continuously refresh our approach to make sure that our food reflects the latest trends and flavours while meeting the budget set out in the contract.”
He continues: “Too often we see that the contract catering industry uses pre-prepared, mass produced goods. What makes us different is our fresh approach, both literally and figuratively speaking. South Africans have become sophisticated diners, so we continuously research global trends and apply them in a local context to ensure we meet our customers’ needs. It was with this in mind that we introduced an a la carte menu in hospitals; for example, providing choice and that little something special for patients.”
Aligning with the wider industry need to develop sustainable and green practices, Capitol Caterers’ vision is to not only halve its impact on the environment, but, by measuring its waste, reach the ambitious target of zero landfill waste by 2020.
“In our business, there are four different kinds of waste; packaging, food waste, prepared meals after service time that weren’t eaten, and that found on the diner’s plate at the end of a meal. We are doing a number of things to address some of these issues, such as banning the use of polystyrene, sourcing our natural ingredients from suppliers with complete traceability and the relevant quality certifications, as well as launching initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint and food wastage,” explains Camminga.
“By setting clear targets on when we will achieve our goals, we hope to set the bar high for the wider industry.”
This sustainability focus is further compounded in the Company’s recent membership of the Global Green & Healthy Hospitals Network, an organisation committed to implementing a comprehensive environmental health framework for hospitals and health systems; including sustainably-grown healthy food.
“We are the first catering Company in Africa to actively control our food waste in hospitals, and we also raise awareness on the importance of limiting waste on several blogs and websites,” he adds.
Similarly, Capitol Caterers’ newly focused marketing strategy is beginning to take-off. The Company has revitalised its branding materials across the entire business to boost its profile; serving as valuable tools to enhance the look and feel of the brand in alignment with its core values and beliefs. “It enhances what we keep saying to our customers; our food is fresh and our menu’s constantly renewed, it is not ‘brown food’,” the Group CEO emphasises.
Equally refreshing is the Company’s approach to people management, where it invests in the best training, support and business structures to ensure every staff member remains committed to exceeding client expectations. “Each year, we give a member of staff six targets to reach that are clearly measurable in terms of service delivery,” details Camminga. “We then reward the employee based on their performance and drive. Meanwhile, embracing the work ethic of millennials, we recently introduced the ‘winning ticket’ concept that provides instant gratification when we catch an employee doing something right.”
With all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place for its existing service divisions, Capitol Caterers continues to seek out new ways to add value to its business and improve the customer experience. One of the ways the Company is doing this is through the acquisition of likeminded businesses that further integrate within its catering offering. “We recently acquired the iwantmycoffee (IWMC) brand, allowing us to offer our clients a retail brand that is flexible enough to fit into virtually any catering environment. An iconic brand that uses an award-winning blend from Ethiopia, IWMC shops will be constructed at the lowest possible cost while also capitalising on the coffee shop phenomenon and delivering value, aesthetic appeal and a consistent quality final product,” says Camminga.
He concludes: “We are confident in our steps to not only source but retain long-term contracts with our clients, while also looking at ways to add value through potential acquisitions that align with our culture and values; including our sustainability goals and continuous improvement drive.
“Having grown 40 percent in 2015, the next few years promise to be very exciting. There is so much opportunity for us across SADC and beyond, so we are looking forward to what the future holds; both in terms of our three meals a day focus and our new acquisition.”