Learning Curve
How Petroc College tackled allergen labelling ahead of Natasha’s Law

Petroc was formed in 2008, when North Devon College and East Devon College merged to become one institution extending their respective legacies to the wider community. The college is dedicated to ‘transforming life chances for all’ and community underpins all that they do. Petroc proudly provides excellence through learning via three campuses: the main site at Barnstaple, Brannams (which is approximately one mile down the road) and Tiverton (40 minutes away by car). There is a wide range of courses on offer to students of all ages and abilities including A-levels, vocational programs, T-levels, degrees, apprenticeships, industry short courses and recreational classes.

Paula Young first joined Petroc in 2009 as an evening receptionist, she worked in a few departments around the college before joining the commercial catering team in 2011, as catering support administrator. “It’s a very varied role and while I cover all things admin, I can be very hands on too so I might, for example, be overseeing banking first thing then be helping in the kitchen for lunch.” she said.

Managing the production of allergen-safe food labels across the three campuses could require some heavy-duty logistics - not least ahead of Natasha’s Law (also known as the Food Information Amendment) which comes into effect this Autumn. However Petroc has introduced LabelLogic Live, our simple to use food labelling app - to prevent the college coming unstuck. The app allows users to create food labels online, then print using a normal office printer. The labelling software accommodates all current and future labelling legislation to ensure lawful labelling at all times. What’s more, Petroc is one of the first businesses to benefit from our new partnership with data specialist Erudus. The partnership offers Planglow customers access to full product specifications for more than 42K branded items from 800 manufactures and 140 regional and national suppliers in the Erudus database. For Paula this means accessing full data sets for every product the college purchases via regional wholesaler Philip Dennis and adding this data to their own food labelling simply using a product code. “I get the allergens straight from Erudus, it’s nice and quick and know I can trust that information. It’s made ordering much easier too,”  Paula commented.

Petroc first encountered Planglow through contract caterer Taylor Shaw in 2017, during a period when the catering contract was outsourced. “At the time we were using old fashioned fast food containers - the cheap yellow foam ones - so Taylor Shaw brought in compostable takeout boxes from Planglow,” Paula recalled: “When we went back in-house, we continued to use the compostable boxes because they were more environmentally-friendly and looked more professional. Now everything matches - deep fill wedges, salad boxes, burger boxes, wraps… we also use the Botanical range which is nice and bright and really appeals to our students, creating a better display all round”.

Petroc is continually striving to improve all areas of sustainability at its campuses including recycling and waste. The college is situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It holds a Planet Mark certificate, is a member of the Plastic Free North Devon consortium and, in 2019, signed up to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, it will come as no surprise to learn that the college actively encourages all staff and students to help protect the environment and preserve resources wherever possible. “We’re passionate about sustainability and reducing waste across all areas of the college and Planglow fits really well with our environmental policies.” said Paula.

The college used to include minimal information on pack but, since introducing LabelLogic Live, now includes full nutritional values and allergens. Paula talked us through the changes, “In the past we worked with allergen folders, now however, we need to ensure it is 100% accurate down to every last detail. It’s so important to get everything right because, as a business, you’re liable which is a huge responsibility”.

Petroc were given an early demo of LabelLogic Live in 2020, while reviewing their labelling practices ahead of Natasha’s Law. “The legislation had a huge influence on how we needed to set things up in the new school year and seeing the software gave us that kick start we needed. We had a lot of software companies contacting us, but LabelLogic Live was so user friendly and low cost, it fitted our requirements, meaning we didn’t need to look elsewhere” said Paula, concluding: It’s really easy to use. For example, if I was building a sandwich product (in the software) - I select the code for the bread, the code for the butter, and the code for the filling - it’s as easy as that - and I know it’ll be correct. At the end of the day, it gives me peace of mind and that’s what this is really about”.

The commercial catering department runs a variety of eateries across the three campuses. The North Devon (main) campus offers; The Food Hall (cooked breakfasts, traditional hot meals, sandwiches, salads, jacket potatoes, baked goods and a range of hot and cold drinks); The Basement (wood fired pizzas, burgers, chicken and chips etc); and a Costa coffee shop. At the Brannams site down the road, The Pottery provides English and Continental breakfasts, barista coffees, freshly-made plated food, cold drinks, sandwiches, salad boxes, handmade cakes and confectionary. Meanwhile, over at Tiverton, students can enjoy a wide range of grab and go from the Stop and Shop which also serves Costa drinks.

Quality, Paula told us, is the bedrock of Petroc’s foodservice offering: “Good quality and a great price”. Best-sellers include curry, lasagne, chilli con carne - “all the favourites'' - alongside plenty of fresh fruit and veg. “We try to keep it all very affordable because we’re working with a bursary, so a hot meal is £2.75, a full roast dinner on a Wednesday is £3.50 and our sandwiches are £1.70. We work with a local supplier - Philip Dennis - to ensure our produce is of a very high standard. We’re always open to ideas from our students too and do all that we can do to accommodate them. Under normal circumstances, we’d regularly meet with student reps so we could hear what our students wanted – such as cheaper foods or more vegan options - and discuss menu ideas”.

During the pandemic, like all colleges, Petroc has provided on-site learning to students from key worker households only, therefore its catering department has been put on hold. “We offered packed lunches to those that could come in but some of our students travel 20 miles to get here which isn’t always feasible given the current situation so bursaries have been going out directly into the bank accounts of those affected,” Paula said.

When it comes to competing with the lure of the highstreet, outside of lockdown, the distance many students have to travel into college has previously worked in the catering teams favour as Paula divulged, “(At our main site) we have a petrol station down the road, and a McDonalds, KFC and high street just 15 minutes away. However, our students generally prefer to stay on site because parking is limited and they like to hang out at specific areas of the college - so we have a bit of a captive audience. We also try to offer everything here they would find offsite so they don’t need to leave”. But why, we asked ourselves, would they want to? As - all be it virtually - this was our experience too: Petroc clearly delivers excellence in every area, not just learning - so really, we don’t think we’d want to leave either! 

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