The school canteen market

School canteens differ from other food services as their menus are developed using the healthy school canteen strategy guidelines for their state. The canteen has an important job providing healthy food and drink for students. This reinforces the nutrition messages being taught at school and shows that healthy foods can be delicious and exciting.

The school canteen market is unique

  • There are around 9,400 schools across Australia. However, not all will have a school canteen. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has up to date information on the number and types of schools.
  • Principals, P&C or P&F Associations can manage canteens, or private operators can lease them.
  • School canteens open at various times during the day including before school, recess and lunch breaks, sometimes with limited times for over the counter sales. Many smaller schools may not open every day.
  • Canteens are only open 40 weeks per year and are closed for extended periods over the summer holidays.
  • Canteens will often have summer and winter menus, so some products such as ice creams and pies will only be sold seasonally.
  • The canteen committee often makes the decisions about which products will be on the menu so it can take some time to get products into a school canteen.
  • Most canteens are operated by a combination of paid staff and voluntary help.
  • Some canteens are not-profit driven as they provide a service for students and staff; however, in many cases, they aim to earn a profit, which is used for the benefit of the school.

 What to consider before entering the school canteen market:


  • School students and parents are price sensitive
  • Students like to get value for money


  • School canteens like to buy from major distributors so they can minimise their suppliers and deliveries
  • Deliveries need to be during the opening hours of the canteen


  • For NSW, a product must be Everyday or Occasional, have a Health Star Rating of ≥3.5 if Occasional and meet the correct portion limits
  • For other states and territories, products must be GREEN or AMBER to be on the menu
  • Are more likely to sell if appealing, well priced and not the usual lunch box offering

For food industry operating in NSW, this guide provides an outline of the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy and information on how you can support its implementation.

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