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Why ‘grab and go’ nutrition can unlock improved workplace productivity

Few things affect our daily performance as much as our food choices. What people eat, and when they eat it, defines and shapes their routines, their output, their mental health and their physical wellbeing.

Grab and go

It may seem obvious, but when the International Labour Office reports that poor diet in the workplace has cut productivity by up to 20%, questions need to be asked.

Employees know they should make the right choice. They know performance is affected by what we eat. And they know the quick and easy choices will be counter-productive in the long run. So why does the workforce continue to struggle to fuel itself in the right ways?

For many, it comes down to a lack of options and convenience.

According to Sodexo research, nearly half of UK employees do not have access to food at work. Around 65% of people have skipped meals because they are too busy, while 27% have missed at least one simply because of the lack of variety.

Inspiring, convenient, and functional options in the workplace could make a huge difference to the physical and mental health of employees and, ultimately, to their performance at work.

"2.6 million British workers take 10 minutes or less for their lunch break."


Businesses have an opportunity - and a responsibility - to help the workforce make better dietary decisions. This means changing the way food is made available, and challenging the concept that healthy food is more expensive or more difficult to find.

Demand for nutritionally enhanced, functional snacks is growing. The rise of protein products is a testament to this and employers need only look as far as the high street to see the impact and popularity of this market. However these products also need to be provided in the right place at the right time if the potential benefits are to be fully realised.


The impact of poor eating habits

Busy professionals tend to favour unhealthy choices because they are easy or because they deliver a ‘quick hit’, even when armed with the knowledge this will not be as effective in the long run. These habits lead to fatigue, dizziness, headaches and a loss of concentration.

"Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon.”

Harvard Business Review

Skipping meals allows glucose levels to drop too low, which is bad for both the brain and overall performance. Allowing yourself to become too hungry also leads to eating too much, eating too quickly and becoming uncomfortably full when you do eat.

Food packed with nutrition provides the essential fuel the body and brain needs (glucose) to perform to the best of its ability. Different foods are converted into glucose at different rates, with some, such as pasta and donuts, releasing glucose quickly and creating a short burst of energy. Others, like burgers, will provide more sustained energy, but may leave people feeling groggy because the digestive system is working harder.

A better balance comes from foods that use oats, fruits, nuts and beans as the base (which also deliver a ‘quick hit’, but go on to gradually release glucose throughout the day and prevent that familiar crash), that can be easily enhanced with additional vitamins and nutritional benefits.

Making ‘grab and go’ nutrition available in the workplace could be the key to helping employees avoid these sensations. Better options mean people are less likely to skip meals and are likely to encourage positive new behaviours without making any compromises.

"The value and impact of nutrition in our workplaces is enormous. Eating ‘the right stuff’ is now considered a desirable lifestyle choice by many, and we rely on brands and employers to help facilitate that.”

Ciran Madanes, Head of Insight at Sodexo

Unlocking productivity in the workplace

The modern canteen should reflect the tastes and values of the workforce, not only in terms of the choices available, but also in terms of where the food comes from and what it says about an organisation.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of provenance. Scrutiny over food sources and the values of the people behind it apply just as much to workplace catering as they do to the high street. Branding and design are also growing in importance, as people want to see spaces and food that inspire and engage them.

Cathy Moseley, founder of Boundless, believes the snacking industry has come a long way from the “boring, bird food” perception of healthy eating, with increased options now available to those who wish to facilitate better choices.

Boundless produces ‘activated’ nuts and seeds that are nutritious and rich in flavour. Products which align with the shift Cathy has observed towards healthier snack choices, which companies are now embracing as they seek to improve their catering options.

“Over the last five to ten years consumers have become more aware of what they are consuming and what is being put into their food,” she explains. “Gone are the days that you have to buy something that looks or tastes like cardboard for it to be healthy. With all the new amazing food startups on the market, it’s not about compromise anymore.”

While taste is the most important factor in encouraging a change in eating habits (“if it doesn’t taste good then they won’t buy it, no matter how good it is for you”), Cathy believes there are several key factors that affect consumers’ choices:

  1. Health: Giving the buyer a clear benefit, whether it’s high in protein, fibre or good for gut health.
  2. Value: The options available at work must be affordable, or people will look elsewhere.
  3. Ethos: Sustainability and values matter, as people want to make informed choices and buy from companies and brands that align with their own values.

For Vicky Parry, of vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free snack supplier Livia’s, providing plant-based options is essential to avoid missing out on lost productivity and revenue. While less than 1% of the population has adopted a strictly plant-based diet, more than 90% are eating some sort of ‘free-from’ products.

“We’re seeing a far higher number of ‘flexitarians’; the people who are actively limiting their meat and dairy intake and eating more plant-based foods,” says Vicky. “It’s these numbers that make stocking plant-based options an absolute necessity.”

Providing workplace solutions to consumers’ new demands could be the key to unlocking greater productivity levels. Creative employers are introducing breakfast clubs, which encourage people not to skip the morning meal while helping them make healthy choices.

Speciality coffee, served throughout the working day, can encourage staff to take the breaks they need to recharge. If they don’t need to leave the building for good coffee, they may also be more inclined to take advantage of the healthy food choices available.

Speciality coffee

Making healthy foods more attractive

Brain Füd specialises in natural alternatives to artificial energy drinks. Its founder, Philip Udeh, created the brand after suffering from chronic fatigue caused by sickle cell, a hereditary blood disorder. He believes people are willing to make good dietary choices in the workplace, but finding those options must be straightforward.

"Brain Füd drinks contain 75mg of caffeine, around the same as a cup of Americano coffee. They provide a natural ‘lift’ through ginseng and B vitamins, with electrolytes to improve hydration."

Jess Gould, Co-Founder, Brain Füd

“You need the new offerings, you need the interesting stuff,” says Philip. “You need the more natural and healthier propositions to be the things that really help to draw in extra people to come and spend their money on site at the canteen instead of going out and spending it elsewhere.”

Brain Füd

A modern canteen can accommodate the needs of employees by providing not only a space to refuel, but also a place to socialise with colleagues and even arrange informal meetings. A vibrant, inspiring space, well-lit, well-ventilated and filled with nutritious food choices, can make all the difference to productivity and health.

"People want to choose a healthier option when it's available. Convenience is crucial.”

Philip Udeh, Founder, Brain Füd

“Vibrant packaging does a great job of communicating the 100% natural, vegan, or gluten-free nature of a range,” Vicky Parry explains. In Livia’s case, displays that include wicker baskets, imagery and the brand’s story have helped catch the eye in working environments. “It’s the little things that really help with customer engagement, beyond the standard shopping fixture.”

Attitudes to food are changing. A modern workplace canteen should reflect that change, while providing the convenience and healthy choices busy professionals need to drive productivity.

To find out more about how Sodexo can improve work and transform workplace experience for your business, click here to contact us.


May 22, 2019

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