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Rough on students - Mixed reactions as Tastee hikes prices for meals in school canteens

Published:Saturday | November 17, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis
Students of Knox Community College inside the Tastee-operated canteen at the institution.
St George's College principal Margaret Campbell (right) and a representative of Tastee mark the start of the company's concession at the canteen of the school.

Students at 18 educational institutions will have to pay more for meals tomorrow as the concessionaire for their canteens, Tastee Limited, introduces higher prices.

This has sparked concern among some school administrators, who note that the students will have little option but to pay the increased prices as they are barred from leaving the school compounds at meal times.

Late last week, Patsy Latchman-Atterbury, CEO of Tastee Limited, confirmed the pending price increase and told The Sunday Gleaner that the company has received mixed reactions.

According to Latchman-Atterbury, Tastee had given the staff, students and parents time to adjust and plan for the increases.

"As in any other going concern, price increases are usually driven by the increases in the price of the raw materials in both the local and international markets, movement in foreign exchange and the competitive forces in the marketplace.

"These costs are coupled with gains due to operational efficiencies to determine the final level of the increase. We are particularly cognisant of our customers' ability to pay. Note that the full amount of the price increase is never passed on to the customer," said Latchman-Atterbury.

She argued that despite the increases, Tastee prices would still be very reasonable when compared to competitors in the market, and invited its customers to look across the menus for a meal that can match their economic position.

"The institutions in which we operate choose Tastee because of the quality of service, product and the fact that we promote healthy partnerships with the schools.

"We strive always to provide an environment where superior quality food is accessible and affordable to all, and we are simply unable to continue to bear all of the increasing cost of doing business at this time," said Latchman-Atterbury.

Tastee operates 18 concessionaires in education institutions across the island. These include nine schools in Kingston and St Andrew, two in St Catherine, four in St James and one in Westmoreland.

Gillian Haven, acting principal of one of the schools where Tastee operates the canteen, Meadowbrook High, told The Sunday Gleaner that while her students understand the need for an increase they are demanding quality for their money.

"The concern is they have increased the prices on the medium and the large lunch. The small lunch is for $250 but that only comes with one piece of chicken. The medium is now $350; I believe it was about $300, the large is now $430, so most students usually buy the medium lunch, and they are saying they are unable to afford it or the large meal," said Heaven.

Tastee has been operating the canteen at Meadowbrook for the past eight years, and with two years left in its contract, the students will have no choice but to eat what it sells.

"So we have asked them to increase in terms of not putting a wing in the small but try to put a leg or half of a thigh, since most students will be buying the small lunches at this time," added Heaven.

Meanwhile, students at one prominent girls' school in the Corporate Area had planned a protest against the price increases for tomorrow, with students asked to carry a black top which they would wear at lunchtime. But the protest was scrapped after a recent meeting.

At St George's College, principal Margaret Campbell said she has been sensitising parents and the school community about the pending price increase, which she thinks is fair.

"The students will have challenges because it's an increase, but to be fair, I have examined the increases myself, and spoke to the Students' Council president in particular, and we have concluded that the price increases are fair, even though it is going to be a challenge for any household, at this time, to pay more for anything," said Campbell.

"We are now in our second five-year stint with Tastee and we work well with the current management. This week, they stopped sending us sodas and replace that with healthier choices, and the students are not being asked to pay more for the healthier choice," added Campbell.