welsh flag food plate wales

Wholesaler Castell Howell is experiencing strong sales growth as the rollout of the Welsh free school meal programme accelerates.

In 2019, the Welsh government announced its intention that all primary school pupils would receive a universal free school meal by 2024.

The delivery of the scheme began in September last year.

An additional target was also set to offer every pupil in reception, year one and year two their free school meal by April, however this goal was not met.

However, The Grocer understands Castell Howell is now experiencing a 15% uptick in local authority sales as the rollout starts to gathers pace.

“There has now been a fairly big ramp-up in the numbers in the last few months, and we think we’re now around three-quarters of the way there,” said Castell Howell director Matt Lewis.

Contracts with the public sector account for around 20% of the foodservice provider’s total sales.

The news came as the hot weather boosted Castell Howell’s summer turnover. Lewis said recent weekend sales had been tracking at 25% up year on year.

“The last two months have been phenomenal for us,” said Lewis, “and if things continue as they are, then we won’t be far away from the £200m turnover mark this year.

“We invest a lot into customer care and service levels, and clearly it’s paying off.

“Of course, we’re slightly worried that this could be a false dawn, with everything that’s going on at the moment, but currently everything seems to be well balanced.”

Last month, the Local Authority Caterers Association called on the Welsh government to raise the levels of funding per meal in line with inflation, to enable caterers to buy higher quality produce.