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General overview of sector

“Contract catering” refers to situations where a company or authority outsources its catering services to a specialist firm.

This sector originally came into being when, from the 1960s onwards, industrial zones and offices started to be established in areas remote from town centres. This trend had an impact on workers’ social lives, necessitating longer journeys between home and work, leaving them with no other option than to eat at the workplace, in company canteens or restaurants.

At the outset, therefore, contract catering developed above all in the “B&I” (business and industry) sphere, which still remains its largest market share nowadays, and in connection with the outsourcing of services. It gradually expanded into hospitals and schools and, more recently, the armed forces, prisons and lastly – due to population ageing – “meals on wheels” delivered to people at home or in elderly care facilities.

Today, according to FERCO, almost 30% of all companies and authorities use a contract catering firm. This is a growth sector: its market share will exceed 35% in 2010. Around 5.5 billion meals were produced by contract caterers in Europe in 2006, serving 67 million consumers every day. This represents one in four meals eaten away from home, and one in every two meals eaten at the workplace.

Contract catering employs 600,000 people, most of them female and unskilled or low-skilled workers. As well as diversifying their markets, many contract catering firms are now trying to diversify their services, moving into areas such as health clubs, nurseries, security, car parks, cleaning, buildings maintenance, landscaping, etc.


ETUI and Observatoire Social Européen (2010) European Sectoral Social Dialogue Factsheets. Project coordinated by Christophe Degryse, online publication available at www.worker-participation.eu/EU-Social-Dialogue/Sectoral-ESD