We’ve all done it. We’ve all been to a meeting or a conference and filled up at lunch only to feel the old eyelids drooping in the second half of the day.
Well, the good news is that it might not have been our fault, but the better news is that Birmingham-based caterer Amadeus is doing something about it.
As the catering arm of the NEC Group, Amadeus is responsible for the F&B offer at the ICC conference venue in Birmingham and has recently been awarded a Food for the Brain accreditation for the second consecutive year.
Food for the Brain Foundation is an educational charity that promotes the importance of nutrition in mental health and well-being, and after pioneering the ICC to become the first conference centre in the UK to gain the accreditation in early 2017, Amadeus has taken a progressive step to introduce conference menus specifically designed to support delegates with the challenge of remaining alert, productive and engaged during the longest of days.
We caught up with Amadeus food and beverage director Marc Frankl to find out more.
Hi Marc, can you explain to us why Amadeus got involved with creating the ‘Focus Food’ menus at ICC Birmingham?
Across the events industry, one of the biggest trends we have seen is the growing number of visitors wanting a healthy eating option with a particular focus on ‘super-foods’, which provide slow-release energy and are high in omega 3 and low in cholesterol.
In addition, customers want to know that food providers are acting responsibly, aiding individuals to make positive food and drink choices that benefit their health through the catering offer provided, whether that be by providing recommended portion sizes, including nutritional information on products or working with conscientious suppliers.
As a business, we’ve pledged to reduce the amount of sugar used in our foodservice operation by 50% by 2020. This will equate to removing seven tonnes of sugar – or 30 million calories – from our food chain in the next three years.
We’ll achieve this by looking at ways in which sugar could be reduced or substituted in meals without compromising on flavour.
What does it take to get Food for the Brain accreditation?
We designed new menu packs collaboratively with the Food for the Brain Foundation over a period of six months.
They provide a range of healthy options that help delegates maintain concentration throughout the working day as well as supporting general health.
Each course is served at the time considered best for boosting performance and concentration, while portion sizes are controlled so calorie intake is appropriate for that time of day.
The accreditation process involved multiple site trips by the appointed Food for the Brain accreditation relationship manager, David Titman, over a six-month period. This was a rigorous audit, with numerous site visits outlining in detail what was expected of us and highlighting the areas we needed to adapt to ensure we fulfilled the accreditation requirements.
Which venues does it cover?
We have just gained the accreditation at the ICC for the second year in a row and we’re proud to say the Belfast Waterfront has become the first venue in Northern Ireland to achieve the accreditation thanks to a new menu we pioneered.
Is it specifically aimed at meetings and conferences? Or is it a philosophy being taken up by Amadeus as a whole?
While the Food for the Brain accreditation is focused specially on our conference venues, the philosophy of providing healthy, nutritionally balanced food across all the venues we cater at is one we’ve adopted for a long time.
For example, in the last year we’ve worked to create bespoke retail brands such as ‘Made’, our deli sandwich concept, and ‘Pure’, our healthy eating concept, and introduced them across the range of venues we cater for.
These concepts are focused on providing customers with delicious and nutritionally balanced options depending on time of day or whether customers are at the beginning, middle or end of their event experience.
For example, when you think about the customers coming to the NEC, visitors are on their feet a lot during day-long exhibitions, so while they are after healthy energy first thing, by the afternoon they feel they can afford to treat themselves so we make sure that option is still available.
How many people could be served this type of menu per year?
Event organisers can choose the ‘Food for the Brain’ menu when booking their event at the ICC – in the last 12 months, nearly 5,000 have sampled the accredited ‘Focus Food’ menu.
What sort of foods and drinks does it encompass and why?
The chef team designed menus featuring high-protein foods that provide slow-release energy with all dishes using fresh ingredients for maximum nutrition and great taste.
Appetising vegetable dishes and salads are featured, along with healthy proteins and oils.
Sugar is carefully managed to provide a healthy balance, with desserts designed to have powerful antioxidant properties.
Even the way the food is cooked allows maximum nutrition and flavour to be retained. Additionally, the team ensured all dietary needs were catered for – menus include excellent-quality vegan and vegetarian options, plus gluten-free and dairy-free choices.
Food presentation was also designed to support delegates in making the healthiest choice. For example, items such as mini cookies are placed in glass jars – this creates an extra barrier to get to the treat as the delegate must first open the lid, encouraging mindful eating. Special attention is paid to encourage delegates to remain well hydrated throughout, with lemon and cucumber-infused water offering a tasty alternative to dehydrating beverages.
How often do the menus change?
Is it based around the client, with personal tastings etc? Or is it more around the seasons and locally-sourced ingredients?
The menu is set, because each dish – and the offering has a whole – needs to be audited by Food for the Brain, although event organisers can choose different options within in menu pack to suit their delegates or event format.
David Titman, Food for the Brain relationship manager, added: “Achieving accreditation status requires that a range of standards must be met across several criteria, including the nutritional value of the menu, ingredient quality and cooking methods used. The Amadeus ICC team excelled across all the areas, achieving a 96% pass rate, when we only require 75%, for the second year.” Alongside range of choice, the menu focuses on providing seasonal produce, provenance and a range of allergen alternatives to suit customer or delegate needs.
Does having this accreditation attract clients to the businesses?
The catering team at the ICC have sold the Food for the Brain menu to 12 separate conferences over the last year. It has attracted custom from many clients, in particular organisations linked to the health care sector, who are primarily motivated by the health message associated with the ‘Focus Food’ menu.
For other organisations, it is the quality and variety of the menu that has attracted custom. What’s more, the menu stands out as a differentiator for event bookers, and therefore is helping the venue sales team to have an edge over their competitors, helping them to sell event space.
Amadeus are passionate about educating staff about the initiative – a specific training programme has been launched to include kitchen staff, front of house and sales staff. In addition, Food for the Brain ‘champions’ have been nominated to ensure that the concept is kept alive throughout the business.