As someone who has been “hands on” in the institutional foodservice (U.S. Navy), the commercial world (Disney World), and in school cafeterias across the country, I draw on the widest possible perspective to help connect food manufacturers, distributors, and schools.
Vendors can add value to menus, attract participation thanks to brand recognition, and contribute economies of scale.
However, there are school-specific factors they do not always understand, such as:
- It is a team sport. The food service director is an important part of that team, but school business officials, such as district procurement offices, are highly involved in decision-making. Consequently, bid documents may be unclear or confusing, and requirements, such as lead times, may be unrealistic.
- Price sensitivity is real – not a negotiation ploy. Tight margins are likely to get even tighter if government reimbursements for free and reduced-meal programs are revised.
- Specifications vary. School meal specifications can differ from commercial specifications, forcing a manufacturer serving both markets to maintain more SKUs.
- Schools vary widely in the accuracy of their usage projections, which is critical to vendors pricing.
- The School Nutrition Association (and its state affiliates) is an important thought leader/influencer on procurement issues. SNA conducts task forces, offers toolkits and continuing education, and shares best practices through publications and conferences. Familiarizing yourself with SNA materials gives you a valuable window into the world of school foodservice.
As a foodservice professional who “speaks both languages,” I have helped manufacturers and distributors come to mutual understandings and workable solutions with school programs. The result is procurement that is fair, open, competitive, and transparent – and the addition of menu items that are nutritious, affordable, and attractive to students.