"There's not enough awareness out there,” said Stewart Brown, the hospital's director of retail food services. “People don't understand how many items you can source locally.”
In the last month, Marek Hospitality has increased its local food content from 30 per cent to 40 per cent at the hospital's Rock Garden Café.
Marek spends around $10,000 to $12,000 on food for the hospital cafeteria per week, and it handles 800 to 1,200 transactions per day.
Brown also oversees the hospital's two Tim Hortons, which handle an additional 1,600 transactions every day.
The increase in local food options at the hospital was thanks in part to a grant from Greenbelt Fund's Local Food Challenge.
The Greenbelt Fund is a non-profit organization that works to enhance the sustainability of agriculture in Ontario.
Brown said the growing uptake in local food items has helped shed the less than positive public image of hospital food.
“We're going back to basics,” he said, adding some customers go to the hospital cafeteria just for the food. “They'll pay the $6 for parking and they come in because they love our homemade burgers.”
The hospital's patient food service has also participated in Greenbelt Fund's Local Food Challenge.
Patrick Tarini, Health Sciences North's director of support services, said local patient food – again, from Ontario – has jumped from 11 to 20 per cent since the challenge started.
“We don't want to gravitate back to 10 years ago where people thought food at the hospital was bland and didn't have much nutritional value to it,” Tarini said.
The hospital spends about $100,000 each month to purchase food for around 400 patients. The hospital's kitchen, for the in-patient food program, has around 50 employees, and is not too different from an operation at a large hotel.
But unlike most private dining establishments, Health Sciences North's kitchen staff must accommodate 100 different diet types, ranging from vegetarian options to meals prepared specifically for patients with diabetes or heart failure.
Tarini said the increase in Ontario ingredients has resulted in a modest cost increase, but he added it has also corresponded with less waste, due to the superior taste.