Procuring Freshly “Prepared” Foods

Prepared foods are still finding a way into schools. Why? Many school districts have visions of offering something “special” for the kids, but they literally can’t prepare it themselves due to lack of facilities or skills.

Depending on the market in your geographic location, there may be several potential companies that would respond to an informal or formal solicitation to develop freshly prepared foods specifically for your program. There is also a great marketing benefit for the district when it can support businesses that are in their area.

A good example of this is a district that wanted to have locally made bagels delivered fresh to their universal classroom breakfast schools once a week. They wanted a two-ounce equivalent, 50% whole grain-rich bagel delivered to four schools—approximately 1,000 units a week. The size of the bagel was certainly going to be custom, and no one at the time had even heard of 50% whole grain rich! The RD in the district developed a specification based on the guidelines and then the procurement team contacted three local bagel companies to see if this idea might spark some interest. Sure enough, it did. One company in particular went out of their way to develop the product and meet the cost and delivery requirements. It was a relatively small volume item for the bagel company, but the positive benefit of partnering with the district by fulfilling the request was worth it. 

Another unique example is when a food manufacturer partnered with a district to make a “value-added” product using the district’s brown box ground beef. At the time, the district did not have the capacity to safely cook the required volume of beef and turn it into taco meat and meat sauce, so the local manufacturer (whose business it was to produce private label food products) considered the challenge and provided what in this case would be deemed a service for the cooking, seasoning, storage, etc. We consider this type of procurement a “sole source” or non-competitive procurement because there were no other competitors in the area that could provide the same processing value. A few years later, the school district was able to produce the product from scratch due to a reorganization of their production model. Meanwhile, the food manufacturer had developed more relationships with other nearby school districts as a result of their foray into the K-12 market.

The cost of these methods might appear to be prohibitive at first, but entrepreneurial food companies may be more willing to partner with school districts because it can have a positive impact on the sales of other non-school products that they produce. Key factors for success of these ventures include: educating potential vendors about the K-12 environment, being clear about what the school district requires for them to be a vendor, and making sure the product is developed to specification. We also recommend student taste testing as a step. Kids can rule the success or failure of even the finest foods.

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