By Alexandra Segond
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It is a compulsory passage for many parents, sometimes several times a year: pay for the school canteen to allow children to eat at midday. Every day they welcome approximately one in two students and serve nearly one billion meals each year.
If each municipality is free to set its prices, the bill should soon be higher. Indeed, the school canteen could cost up to 10% on average more expensive at the start of the next school year. The fault, in particular, with inflation.
Absorb price spikes and shortages
In recent months, in fact, “all prices go up”, asserts François Hauton, national secretary of the National Association of Territorial Restoration Managers (Agores). Whether consumer prices (+5.2% in one year, in May, according to INSEE) or those of energy (gas and electricity).
Not counting the shortages raw food materials (wheat, vegetable oils, meat, etc.), against a background of war in Ukraine since the end of February. “In my town, products have seen their prices increase by 10 to 50%”entrusted to news.fr Gilles Pérole, deputy mayor of Mouans-Sartoux (Alpes-Maritimes) and co-president of the “School catering” working group at the Association of Mayors of France (AMF).
In recent months, the episodes of avian flu which have struck in several departments have also affected farms and suppliers of poultry. And, consequently, the customer communities for their catering service.
Finally there is also a game of speculation around certain products, unanimously denounce François Hauton and Gilles Pérole. “I am concerned about products, such as the rise in the price of jars of tomato sauce: tomatoes are summer, there is currently no shortage, so why is it increasing? “, points the latter.
How to absorb inflation?
These are all elements that push municipalities to review their canteen management. Especially since it is not possible, for the moment, to block prices for local authorities – a track also requested by the AMF.
Some try to absorb this inflation, by pressing the fight against food waste, by replacing certain foods or by rethinking their menus. “One can imagine going from five [une entrée, une protéine, un accompagnement, un fromage, un dessert, ndlr.] four components in a meal”, image François Hauton.
Another example: at Mouans-Sartoux, for ecological and economic reasons, the town has set up 40% alternative meals based on vegetable proteins and eggs, explains Gilles Pérole. Before adding that “given the situation, we will have to accelerate”.
To make choices
But another part of the communities plans, in the coming months, to pass on this inflation to the prices of the canteens. “Unless the suppliers agree to limit the evolution of prices…”, slips Gilles Pérole, without believing it too much.
And it will be either the municipality that finances, or the families. On average, this price increase must reach 5% to 10%. “It’s not the meal itself that is expensive, it’s the management, the preparation, the staff”, wants to reassure François Hauton.
But with inflation, if the municipality has to pay more for raw materials, to limit the damage, it will have to save money elsewhere. Or go into debt.
Some communities know that it will be politically and socially complicated to apply a tariff increase, they will have to cut corners on other budgets. Which, then? We don’t have the solution yet.
“Real problems await us in 2023”
A situation that is all the more delicate as each municipality has its own way of working and his own difficulties. Depending on her budget and her policy, she can cover part of the cost of the meals.
A “logical” decision for Gilles Pérole. “That’s also what taxes are for!” But we can’t pay for everything either., evaluates the chosen one. He points the finger at the finances of the municipalities: “they are not necessarily very flourishing, the State has withdrawn a lot from the allocation of the municipalities, by abolishing after 2022 the housing tax for example. »
In any case, we will soon have to decide. It’s almost the holidays. And the start of the school year, when some of the municipalities will be able to raise the prices of canteens, officially takes place in three months.
“Communities may, depending on their finances, postpone until January 1, 2023, beginning of the calendar year”, says François Hauton. “Others will advise based on the renewal of their markets, which set the selling prices of their products over a given period,” adds Gilles Pérole.
The AMF has also asked to meet with the Ministry of the Economy to discuss the issue, concludes the deputy mayor. “The state made a move for gasoline, for inflation, for the agricultural sector. Why not now for food? »
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