Without Studio invents school dinners with pupils in charge

Children are being offered nutritious meals at school, but many aren't eating them. Without Studio has come up with an imaginative solution by getting the children themselves involved.

In a world with so many unhealthy eating options, a parent can find it a constant battle to persuade their kids to eat properly and get the nutrition they need. This makes school dinners a great opportunity to socialise youngsters into sensible eating habits.

One of the biggest providers of these meals in the UK is school catering specialists Alliance in Partnership. Established in the West Midlands in 1998, it today serves more than 75,000 freshly cooked, nutritious and locally sourced meals a day in 400 primary, middle and secondary schools as well as colleges throughout the UK.

Yet this job isn't easy. Despite efforts from chefs like Jamie Oliver and Henry Dimbleby's School Food Plan, children often skip school meals because of what they perceive as unappealing food and long queues. This inevitably impacts academic performance, physical development and mental health, not to mention increasing food waste.

For help, they approached Without Studio, a London agency created to bridge the gap between graphic design and strategic consultancy, whose clients include Wahaca, Sushi Daily, Wedgwood, Third Space and Caravan Coffee.

Brief and solution

Determined to deliver healthy lunches that pupils would choose to eat, Alliance in Partnership challenged Without to reinvent school food and reestablish dining rooms as the focal point of school communities.

The result is The Kitcheneers, a new approach encompassing the whole branding experience, including naming, identity, communication and digital channels. But the key to it all is menu design, specifically because Without took the imaginative step of inviting students into their own kitchens and putting the power in their hands.

Without came up with this strategy because its research and workshops with students at AIP kitchens showed that many were suspicious of 'hidden ingredients' in common one-tray dishes like curries and stews. This reduced trust and willingness to experiment and increased food waste.

Instead, Without encouraged a simple, 'brilliant basics' approach, good quality proteins, supplemented with customisable sides that allowed students to personalise dishes according to taste, allergies or beliefs.

This 'modular' approach became the brand's philosophy, inspiring everything from the name to visual identity and tone of voice. Fundamentally, The Kitcheneers is about collaboration – between pupils, teachers, parents, chefs and suppliers.

Following a successful trial, The Kitcheneers will be in 50 schools across the United Kingdom by the end of 2024. It will have a social presence, too, as well as an app to further support students.

Visual identity

The visual identity was also influenced by research showing that today's students are motivated by high street brands that make life simple and who take their mission seriously, but not themselves. In response, The Kitcheneers took a confident but approachable tone that brings authority and energy into typically generic dining halls.

Once-empty walls now feature posters with new messaging led by student interests, like the environment and ethical ingredients, in a contemporary and relatable way. Likewise, the typography was chosen to be hard to ignore and easy to digest, helping students make decisions ahead of time and reducing queues and congestion.

Food photography was inspired by the students' favourite high street brands, alongside stickers and sustainable packaging for meals on the go.

"This was a chance to help solve a really important problem," says Without's founder, Roly Grant. "Most school food is commissioned by the grown-ups. By starting with students – inviting them into the kitchen and asking what and how they wanted to eat – we began to understand barriers and opportunities. Combining this with our experience of high street brands, we created a simple, modular offer that allows students to balance exploration with personal preference, communicated with opinion and positivity."

James Mundy, marketing director for schools, adds: "The Kitcheneers is here to raise the bar and provide students with the level of care they deserve. Without instantly recognised the scale and severity of the challenge, and their work has been critical in bringing the brand's values to life across every touchpoint. We're excited for the future and the difference this work will make nationwide."


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