Dominated by the big four of Compass, Sodexho, Aramark and Elior the sector has changed hugely from its cost-sector post-war roots and today embraces oil rigs, hospitals, schools, leisure centres, sports stadia and race tracks and Ministry of Defence sites.

Many of these contracts are now run on a commercial basis – as many as 70% of the total outlets – demanding the caterer make money.

While business and industry remains the largest slice of the pie by meals served and number of outlets, it is also the most mature market with limited growth potential.

Contract caterers, or food and service management companies as the British Hospitality Association (BHA) has dubbed them, continue to expand their range of soft services offered such as reception duties, as well as cleaning and security, and there are 3,000 support services undertaken.

The importance of integrated management systems – the bundling together of support services including catering – continues to grow.

Source: 2007 UK Food and Service Management Survey – BHA