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 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 are also great marketing benefits for a district when it can support local businesses.

Prepared Foods Examples: Bagels and Taco Meat

A good example is a district that wanted fresh, locally-made bagels delivered once a week to their schools serving universal classroom breakfast. 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 district’s Registered Dietitian 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 developed the product and met both 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 district partnered with a food manufacturer to make taco meat and meat sauce - a “value-added” product using the district’s brown box ground beef. At the time, the district did not have the equipment or capacity to safely cook the required volume of beef, so they connected with a local business focused on private label food production.  The company considered the challenge and provided 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.

Benefits to Food Companies

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 from vendors, and making sure the product is developed to specification. We also recommend student taste testing to ensure products are well received.

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