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One hundred years of food services

Helsinki’s food services became one hundred years old the same year that Finland celebrated one hundred years of independence. As a food service provider, the City of Helsinki has played a significant role throughout its history. Today, Helsinki Service Centre delivers 100,000 meals every day.

The decision to set up a food committee was made on 12 June 1917.

The Helsinki Service Centre celebrated its centenary in autumn 2017 together with its clients.

Food for children and those of limited means

Central kitchen began providing food services for low-income citizens in 1917. It was located in the hotel Seurahuone building at Kauppatori Market Square.

At the time, food was often scarce and one-sided. Food lines where people queued for their meals from the central kitchen were a common sight on the streets. There were food vouchers that were exchanged for food.  

The operation of the central kitchen found its permanent form in the 1920s. Gradually, the kitchen was provided all the small rear buildings between the Sofiankatu and Katariinankatu Streets that today are located in the inner courtyard of the Helsinki City Hall. The kitchen also had storage facilities and summer cafés at various locations around the city, including the Hietaniemi Beach.

In time, school meals became a significant service form. The idea of school meals first emerged already in 1905, and in an effort to establish it was proposed in 1919 that all food for the children should be ordered from municipal kitchens. The law ensuring a free school meal for all children dates back to 1943. Over time, food service was expanded to include child day care as well.

During the Second World War, there were changes to the food services, with the Helsinki central kitchen providing meals for the army, children and pregnant women.

Rapid development after the war

In the 1950s, food services evolved and developed rapidly. There were many reforms aimed to develop the organisation and service as well as the meals offered.

According to the Civic School Act of 1957, all pupils shall be provided a meal free of charge that is nutritious, tasty and contributes to healthy growth. During the later decades, consideration was also given to the quality of the meal, and the emphasis shifted from soup meals to ready-cooked and frozen food. In the late 1960s, nutritional demands also began to guide the preparation of the food. 

After the war the food factory opened at Helsinginkatu Street. In 1979 it moved to new and modern facilities at Pakkala in Vantaa, where it still remains.

Food service development remained rapid throughout the 1990s when the Foodstuff centre became the Food service centre. Food supply had become an extensive operation, employing more than 1,750 people.  

From Palmia to Helsinki Service Centre

Food service activities were modernised and developed again in the 2000s. Palmia started operations in 2003 with the merger of the Helsinki Catering, the Real Estate Centre of the Real Estate Department of the City of Helsinki and the Service Centre of the Education Department.

In 2014, the City of Helsinki decided to turn part of Palmia into an independent company. Combining real estate, cleaning, safety and restaurant services, Palmia Oy started as a corporation at the beginning of 2015.

Most of the business activities, that is the meal, telephone and well-being services, remained with the municipal enterprise that has operated under the name of City of Helsinki Service Centre municipal enterprise, or Service Centre Helsinki, since the beginning of 2015.

Aiming for customer satisfaction

Compared to the rest of Europe, Finnish mass catering has developed quite uniquely. In Finland, public administration has provided up to 60% of the food service meals. Food produced with public money has already been eaten in schools, day care centres and hospitals daily for one hundred years.

The biggest restaurateur in Finland, the City of Helsinki has borne significant social responsibility both in times of crisis and peacetime. Service Centre Helsinki is still prepared to supply provisions in a crisis situation.

Helsinki’s food services have gathered strong expertise during their history. Service Centre Helsinki has honed its role as an expert by, for example, developing its competence, processes and performance monitoring. In addition, the vast archive of recipes compiled over time is a veritable treasure.

Today, Service Centre Helsinki partners with the city schools, day care centres, various service centres, service homes, special group housing units and hospitals. The Service Centre also offers telephone and well-being services as well as logistics services. It delivers more than 100,000 meals daily.